by Hope Madden
The Last Airbender. The Happening. After effing Earth. Man, it has been a long time since M. Night Shyamalan made a decent movie. If you keep that in mind – if you manage your expectations – his latest film, The Visit, is pretty enjoyable. It’s a step in the right direction, anyway.
A single mom (a very believable Kathryn Hahn) reluctantly allows her two teenagers visit their estranged grandparents in rural Pennsylvania for a week. You’ve seen the ads – things don’t go well.
Whatever the flaws, no matter the lack of originality, The Visit generates creepy dread punctuated by some genuine laughs, and it boasts several fine performances.
Ed Oxenbould is endearing, fun and funny as little brother/would-be rapper Tyler. Olivia DeJong is slightly less compelling as his sister/budding filmmaker Becca. (Yes, tragically, this is a found footage film – but it’s an M. Night Shyamalan film, so expect some weirdly beautiful vistas and panoramas given Becca’s age.)
She’s decided to make a documentary of the visit as a gift to her mother, and an attempt to rebuild the relationship that went south long before she was born. (This is a theme that echoes, somewhat tediously, throughout the effort.)
Nana and Pop Pop are played, quite eerily, by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie, respectively.
Per usual, Shyamalan peppers the mystery with more than enough clues, which you look right past. He’s a master at sleight of hand, and his film – modest as it is – showcases his enviable craftsmanship.
The Visit will absolutely not stand up to the filmmaker’s greatest efforts – Signs, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense. Hell, it may just be the result of a flagging filmmaker turning backward, falling into patterns that garnered early success, but bringing less inspiration with him to the project. Whatever the reason or craft behind it, The Visit is easily the best film Shyamalan’s made in more than a dozen years.