Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”)
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan (“Lady in the Water”)
Look, I’m not here to tell you that the M. Night Shyamalan from the days of “The Sixth Sense” is back after years of laughably terrible movies or anything, but with “The Visit” we finally get a Shyamalan movie that is both enjoyable and invites you to laugh along with the self-aware ridiculousness on the screen instead of at the tone deaf hack work the director has been turning out for a decade or more. And yeah, this is another in a long line of found footage horror/thriller movies with too-sharp teenagers, but all the dumb stuff is ultimately of little consequence as the movie ramps up the weirdness to near-sublime levels.
Years after leaving home under bad circumstances to start a family with an older man, a single mom (Kathryn Hahn) sends her teenage kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) to meet the grandparents they’ve never known. Their mother hasn’t spoken to her parents in years, and after they contact her online and arrange a visit, Becca decides she’s going to give her mother the healing with her parents she will never mentions she needs. Conveniently for the found footage aesthetic, Becca decides to do this by way of a documentary. After a train ride to a snowy small town in Pennsylvania, Becca and Tyler are greeted by Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), who seem like nothing more than quiet old people—until the lights go out and things get creepy, with a naked Nana prowling the halls and a disoriented Pop Pop dressing in a tuxedo for a costume party that’s never happening. Is it just the onset of dementia, or is something more sinister going on?
Sure, the found footage angle is unnecessary at best and kind of dumb at worst (because they never stop filming, even when in mortal danger!), but “The Visit” is kooky enough to keep things from sliding into traps more routine horror movies often find themselves in, and even throws in a nice creepy twist that manages to keep things grounded. This is a humbled Shyamalan doing his best work since before Mel Gibson lost his mind, and he’s finally in on the joke. I mean what other thriller can you think of that features something as funny a teenage girl being convinced twice to climb into an oven to clean it or a rapping white kid who falls victim to one of the most hilariously gross out gags in horror movie history?