Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and director M. Night Shyamalan became an overnight phenomenon following the debut of his third feature, The Sixth Sense. To this day, any and all advertisements for his movies will feature the words, “From the writer and director of The Sixth Sense.” Following up on it proved simple for Shyamalan, releasing two more films that received similar acclaim, Unbreakable in 2000 and Signs in 2002, yet in the 13 years that have passed, he has (arguably) not made nor been involved in a single film reaching anywhere near the success of those three. (The Village has its defenders, but I am not one of them).
That is, at least, until now.
Shyamalan’s latest work, The Visit, is a found-footage horror-comedy about two young children who go to meet their estranged grandparents on a weeklong trip. The film starts off in an interview with the Mom (Kathryn Hahn), who has not spoken to her parents in 15 year following a massive falling out due to her relationship with an older man. 10 years later, the man leaves her with their two children, Rebecca (Olivia De Jonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould). Mom has a new boyfriend, and he decides to take her on a cruise, so, after a seemingly spontaneous invitation, the kids decide to make the trip to Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-pop’s (Peter McRobbie).
But there’s something a little off about grandma and grandpa. No one is allowed in the basement, nor out of their rooms after 9:30 PM. When the kids decide the break curfew, they find that grandma sleepwalks at night and vomits everywhere. She makes strange noises and claws at the walls. When the kids come clean to grandpa, he writes it off as her just being an old lady.
Unfortunately, grandpa’s not a shining example of normalcy either. One day, taking the kids into town, he gets paranoid and attacks a stranger. The kids call their mother and explain what’s going on. Mom says they’re just old.
There’s one scene that stands out among the rest in this movie in terms of both horror and humor and effortlessly blending them. The kids are playing hide and seek in the crawl space beneath the house. We switch between their POVs throughout, and as one is being terrorized, we may cut back to the other, who has no idea what is going on. It’s a great scene that really showcases the directorial skill of Shyamalan.
The Visit's script is an absolute return to form for Shyamalan, delivering what is easily his best work since The Sixth Sense, complete with fittingly outstanding performances. Oxenbould is especially notable, for giving a believable and hilarious performance, while De Jonge pulls us in as a young aspiring filmmaker who wants to stay ethical and true to her creative vision. Dunagan, however, is the true star of the movie, putting in a captivating, haunting, and profoundly entertaining performance, with McRobbie's character being off-putting throughout, coming up with half-baked explanations for the strange goings-on at the house.
Pay no attention to the trailers for this one. Remember in 2012 when Drew Godard’s horror-comedy masterpiece The Cabin In The Woods was about to be released? Or Adam Wingard’s 2013 You're Next? The trailers we got made it seem as if they were straight-up slasher flicks. Going into the theaters to actually see them proved disappointing for many, as what they ended up getting were dark comedies. This is a very similar situation to the campaign for The Visit. The trailer tries to sell the movie as something that will terrify you, but the truth is you will be laughing a lot more than jumping.
This movie is scary when it’s supposed to be, and it’s funny when it’s supposed to be. The Visit is M. Night Shyamalan’s first step toward a massive comeback. Here’s hoping he can keep it up.