Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Has M. Night Shyamalan set the bar so low for his movies over the past decade that anything above mediocre is seen as good? That’s a legitimate question I had to ask myself after leaving “The Visit” because I was generally shocked. I couldn’t remember the last time I had left a Shyamalan movie with positive notes to tell. So now a new question must be asked. Has Shyamalan redeemed himself for a decade’s worth of awful movies? No. But “The Visit” is a good start on that road to absolution.
It’s a real trick these days to come up with a new way to tell a found footage movie and for it to make sense. Becca (DeJonge) has an interest in filmmaking and plans on making a documentary for her mom (Kathryn Hahn). The documentary being made by the aspiring teenage filmmaker involves herself and her young brother, Tyler (Oxenbould), visiting their never before seen grandparents. All she knows is what her mom tells her. Becca’s mom says when she first became pregnant with her, an untold incident happened and the family members parted ways, never to speak again. But unluckily for them, the grandparents reached out to them online and wanted to see the grandkids that they’ve never laid eyes on. Sappy documentary gold.
Despite her hesitance, Becca’s mom allows them to go spend the week at the ol’ farmstead. Everything seems normal enough with their grandparents, Nana (Dunagan) and Pop Pop (McRobbie). The elderly couple once had their own individual careers, but moved on from that. Now they take care of a farm and volunteer at the area hospital. Nana has a knack for baked goods and Pop Pop seems like an old fashioned man who keeps busy maintaining the rustic farm. It’s only until their imposed bedtime of 9:30 at night do things really take a turn.
As each day passes, more and more troubling signs crop up and they become more severe as the week goes on. What seems like simple “grandma and grandpa are old” problems slowly unravels into something far more disturbing. As anyone growing up and staying the weekend with their grandparents know, there’s always some weird things that we don’t get that our grandparents do. But when the kids find Nana naked clawing at the walls at the dead of night, these disturbing incidents begin to imply something more sinister.
What Shyamalan has finally done, after a lot of trial and errors, is abandoned the way too serious tone for an engaging mix of laughs and scares. Someone must have told him that one of the best ways to scare an audience is to lull them into a state of safety by making them laugh. Nearly every jump scare is sandwiched between jokes, and those jokes are hits or misses, but I’m more hits than not. Without that chuckle, our defenses aren’t dropped and we instead focus on some of the weaker qualities of the movie, which “The Visit” is not without.
What made Shyamalan such a household name after the “Sixth Sense” was his trademark twist, the ability to tug at the heart strings, jump scares, and Lifetime movie jokes. He’s brought all that back, but his heartfelt message gets lost in the mix and doesn’t land as well as it should. What really helps sell the terror is Dunagan and McRobbie. Both turn in spectacular performances as the borderline senile and sincere grandparents to the children who seem captive by choice. Bonus points are also given when your child actors aren’t nauseating to listen to or watch.
“The Visit” has perfectly blended comedy and horror, but it finds an even balance. It doesn’t take long for an audience to laugh at silly old Nana before clinching the arm rests when she tells Becca a story that could easily be an allegory for hiding bodies at the bottom of the lake near the home. It’s definitely an odd feeling to give a recommendation for a Shyamalan movie, especially when speaking in the present tense. The much joked about director has finally realized that maybe the best way to win an audience back over is to include them in on the joke.