Once upon a time there was a brilliant filmmaker named M. Night Shyamalan. At one point his name was synonymous with fantastically creepy movies and mind-blowing twist endings. It wasn’t too long after, though, before his name became a punchline, synonymous with abject crap.
The Visit is his 11th movie (and the 12th he’s written), and though it’s not his best, it’s still enough to get people hoping again that the old Night is slowly making a return to form.
The set-up is simple enough– a divorced mom (Kathryn Hahn) sends her two teenage kids to stay with her parents for a week. When the kids arrive, though, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out that Nana and Pop Pop are a little off-kilter. The oldest kid, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), is an aspiring filmmaker, so she’s chronicling everything with her trusty video camera, along with her brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould).
Instead of terrifying, horror-type thrills, Shyamalan taps into people’s fears and emotions about things like dementia and schizophrenia. Pop Pop is incontinent, which Tyler discovers in a particularly jarring scene, and Nana is prone to sitting in a corner and cackling uncontrollably. Neither will give you nightmares, certainly, but they’re both enough to make you terribly uneasy and unsure what to expect next.
The movie is decidedly bare-bones. Shot in just 30 days with a $5 million budget, it has no big-name stars other than Hahn, whose role amounts to little more than a cameo; but that doesn’t mean the cast doesn’t turn in top-notch performances. The four leads all prove their mettle, whether causing the creepiness or reacting to it.
There are times, sure, when Shyamalan’s script tends to drag, but by the time the big third-act twist rolls around, it’s not hard to get sucked in and lean a little forward in your seat. The Visit won’t cause the watercooler hysteria that Shyamalan’s early movies like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable did, but it’s good enough. It’s a solid, creepy thriller with a bona-fide twist ending– a welcome return to form for a man who sorely needs it.