I don’t think there’s a filmmaker working today with a more interesting career trajectory than M. Night Shyamalan. His work in the late 90s/early 2000s had him heralded as a brilliant young director and some people even said he was going to be this generation’s Alfred Hitchcock. But, sadly, it was too good to be true; his last few films have been complete duds, failing to generate great box office numbers, while also getting critically panned in the process. Hoping to recapture some of the glory of his early career, The Visit is a return to the horror genre for Shyamalan. On the surface, this may seem like a strange new direction for him: it’s a found-footage film and it’s also produced by Jason Blum, the most prolific horror producer working today. But this is still undeniably a Shyamalan film, featuring broad jokes and a beating heart at its center. And while the film never gets close to matching the quality of his best work, it’s still a nice return to form and a very fun horror-comedy.

When Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler’s (Ed Oxenbould) mother (Kathryn Hahn) was a young girl, she ran away from home with an older guy and never returned. Now, her parents are asking to finally meet their grandchildren and she really has no choice but to agree. So Becca and Tyler travel to the home of their Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) and they’re welcomed with open arms. But their weeklong visit doesn’t stay perfect for long. They soon begin to notice both of their grandparents exhibiting strange behavior, particularly after sundown. At first they just dismiss these weird occurances as things that happen to a lot of old people. But as Nana and Pop Pop begin to act more and more strange, Becca and Tyler start to question whether they should fear for their safety.

The Visit is a strange, strange film. It’s a horror film that’s only occasionally scary and it’s also a comedy that’s only occasionally funny. But even if it’s only sporadically successful in these areas, somehow the final product manages to work and it’s difficult to explain how. Maybe the film survives on its interesting premise alone, which can pretty much be summed up as “Old people doing weird things”. There’s something incredibly entertaining about watching the film and seeing just how strange things will get, even if a lot of the best moments were spoiled in the advertisements for the film. And a lot of the comedy stems from the sheer absurdity of the situations that these two children are placed in. Whether it’s finding what their Pop Pop hides in the shed or participating in a Yahtzee game from hell, here’s a film where you can simultaneously laugh and shriek at the same thing.

What ultimately drags the film down the most are the two kids who we spend most of the movie with. This isn’t due to their performances (which are actually quite good), but due more to the writing of their characters. Tyler is often meant to be funny but rarely is and Becca comes off as so pretentious that she ends up being excruciating to listen to at times. Perhaps this was Shyamalan’s intent with the two characters, but it still detracted from my overall enjoyment of the film. Luckily, Shyamalan give the film enough bizarre humor and tense moments that this complaint doesn’t remain a big issue. The snowy location of Nana and Pop Pop’s house is an inspired choice, as are the large red letters that overtake the screen at the start of every new day. Shooting the film found-footage style seemed like an odd choice, but Becca’s obsession with turning this trip into a documentary actually ends up giving this film a strong, emotional center. The Visit certainly isn’t perfect, but it remains a nice return to form for Shyamalan and a trip to Nana and Pop Pop’s house worth taking.

The Visit receives 3/4

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