It’s off to grandparents’ house we go in the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, “The Visit.” The director who once thrilled audiences with “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” had hit a bit of a bad streak with duds like “After Earth” and the live-action adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon series “The Last Airbender.” However “The Visit” shows Shyamalan has more surprises and plot twists left for his audience.
Movie-loving Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and rapper wannabe Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are visiting their estranged grandparents for the first time in years. Their memories of Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) are fuzzy at best, but the pair quickly learns that something is terribly off. Nana roams the halls at night on all fours and Pop Pop looks to be keeping secrets of his own in the shed outside their cottage. They chalk up their grandparents’ strange behavior to old age, but as their week-long visit wears on, Becca and Tyler must figure out how to get back home - alive.
Shyamalan reuses a few tropes from his previous films to great effect. He plays off the sibling dynamic well as he did in “Signs,” and of course, there’s one kid that’s too smart for their own good as Haley Joel Osment’s character was back in “The Sixth Sense.” But in “The Visit,” Shyamalan takes a bit of a departure in terms of family unity. For the most part, family or a loose concept of a family unit is how his characters were able to survive in his movies. The source of anxiety for our child heroes are the people expected to take care of them. What does it mean to live in fear of loved ones or are unable to trust them? Now that’s scary.
Likewise, with no star power like Bruce Willis, Paul Giamatti or Mel Gibson in sight, the stripped-down approach of “The Visit” is equally intriguing. From the knitted style of the poster (pictured above) to the cast of mostly unknown actors (save for the kids’ mom played by Kathryn Hahn), Shyamalan’s return to the genre bills the director’s legacy as the primary attraction. Consider it a kind of reclamation of his title as a master of suspense.
— M. Night Shyamalan (@MNightShyamalan) August 19, 2015
Yet “The Visit” is unlike any previous M. Night Shyamalan film. The use of found footage, another terribly used recent horror movie fad, is woven into the story under the guise of Becca’s aspirational film interests. There are plenty of one-off moments intended to the throw the audience off the story’s trail, and something like found footage makes it seem like everything caught on camera is vital to the narrative. It simply isn’t, and you’re left to piece together the puzzle until almost the very end.
Being that September is almost frighteningly scant with any big name releases until closer to October; a pleasant surprise from “The Visit” is a welcome distraction. It’s light entertainment meant to get us until the drenched horror movie release schedule in the fall. Shyamalan’s return to horror is a return to the genre he knows and operates best in. Yet it’s also a chance to see the director take new risks and play with different themes to keep his audience guessing. “The Visit” is a step forward in his career, and fingers crossed he has a few more scary movies up his sleeves.
“The Visit” opens in theaters Friday, Sept. 11.