'The Visit' smartly sprinkles some laughs between creepy chills
‘The Visit’ smartly sprinkles some laughs between creepy chills

M. Night Shyamalan is a fascinating case of a promising career gone horribly wrong. Billed as the next Hitchcock after his turn-of-the-millennium run of “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” it seemed he could do no wrong.

But things went from disappointing with “The Village” and “Lady in the Water” to outright disastrous with “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth.” And the less said about “The Happening,” the better.

Shyamalan needed to get back to basics which is exactly what he did by teaming with micro-budget, horror-hit-maker Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions for “The Visit.”

Calling “The Visit” Shyamalan’s best movie since “Signs” is a bit like bragging about being Tuesday night’s No. 1 military drama, but at this point, the guy should take what he can get.

“The Visit” is a fun and thrilling little hunk of genre that smartly sprinkles some laughs in between the creepy chills.

The story is pretty simple as two young, precocious teens, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), are sent by their single mother (Kathryn Hahn) to visit their estranged grandparents for a week in rural Pennsylvania.

We get the requisite trappings of convenient isolation like no cell phone coverage and mom being away on a cruise even before we meet Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie).

The movie keenly plays off of kids’ fears of the elderly as slight bouts of uncomfortable truths about dementia and incontinence tip off the fact something is not quite right at Nana and Pop Pop’s house.

One gimmick the movie could have done without is the found-footage approach as Becca is making a “documentary” about their trip. Shyamalan is so good with the camera it’s a shame to see him give over control to the bumpy, jerky, first-person perspective. Even still, he does manage to frame some of the better shots you’ll ever see in a movie like this.

Shyamalan is a master of building suspense and he is hitting on all cylinders in this movie as events proceed to get stranger and stranger and the danger builds from comically odd to very, very real.

The problem with being so good at the buildup is it is nearly impossible to have the payoff measure up.

Even still, for being a silly little horror movie, “The Visit” has some meat on its bones and a surprising amount of heart with characters you actually care about. That is a tribute to Shyamalan and a reminder the dude has a heck of a lot of talent if he can only manage to get out of his own way.

“The Visit” isn’t a return to the glory days for Shyamalan, but at the very least, it marks a step in the right direction. I’m definitely rooting for him because few things are sadder than seeing someone with tremendous talent flame out so quickly.

“The Visit” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, including terror, violence, and some nudity, and for brief language.

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