M. Night Shyamalan, the former boy wonder of horror-mystery-suspense, has a shot at redemption with “The Visit.”
Featuring a plot about a disturbing stay by a teen girl and her younger brother at their grandparents’ house in Pennsylvania farm country, “The Visit” may make Shyamalan a box office contender again.
It’s been 16 years since the writer-director hit box office gold with the atmospheric, Bruce Willis-starring ghost story, “The Sixth Sense.” His winning streak continued with 2000’s similarly dark and brooding “Unbreakable” and 2002’s alien-invasion-family drama with Mel Gibson, “Signs,” the director’s best film after “The Sixth Sense.”
Although Shyamalan retained his distinctively creepy touch after “Signs,” his stories wandered into the deep end. He got lost in the woods with the laughably awful “The Village.”
More missteps followed with “Lady in the Water,” “The Happening,” and, worst of all, the disastrous “The Last Airbender.”
“The Visit,” on the other hand, definitely entertains, even though it’s not the terrifying fright fest it’s been promoted to be. “The Visit” is a horror-comedy. It’s a movie that inspires people in the audience to talk to the screen. They want to warn characters, for instance, to not go in the basement.
Considering how funny “The Visit” is, it’s difficult to believe that Shyamalan isn’t in on the joke. Even when some intense third-act events amplify the fright quotient, the film is far more funny than scary.
If audiences do laugh their way through “The Visit,” accepting and enjoying the movie as something that can’t be taken seriously, Shyamalan’s new film still succeeds in a way that several of his earlier ones didn’t — it’s worth watching.
But “The Visit” also adopts the clichéd found-footage technique. That translates to annoying, manufactured handheld camera imagery and principal characters staring into the camera. All of this is distracting enough to impede the storytelling.
“The Visit” centers upon Becca (Olivia DeJonge), 15, and the documentary she’s making about her mother. When Becca’s single mom (Kathryn Hahn) sends Becca and her brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), off to see the grandparents the siblings have never met, Becca suddenly has a great opportunity to interview them.
The grandparents, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), meet the kids upon their arrival in the small town of Masonville. Pop Pop predicts they’re going to spend a great week together.
“I haven’t seen your grandma this happy in years,” he says.
But there are a few odd rules at Pop Pop’s and Nana’s house. “Don’t go in the basement,” Pop Pop tells the kids. “There’s mold down there.” And the kids mustn’t leave their rooms after 9:30 p.m.
Becca and Tyler quickly notice strange things involving their grandparents. Tyler refuses to dismiss the incidents as weird old people acting their age, but Becca, in classic horror movie style, becomes the teen queen of denial. She thinks her little brother is an alarmist.
Despite the laughs, Dunagan’s and McRobbie’s no-holds-barred performances as the children’s oddball grandparents go a long way in making “The Visit” memorable. And Shyamalan pulls out his old tricks to good effect. “The Visit” is madcap horror, coiled and ready to spring.