Shyamalan resurrects his film career in “The Visit”

Michael Ambrosino, Contributing Writer

I don’t know about you, but I hereby declare M. Night Shyamalan resurrected! Well, sort of, and for now at least. After a long, long string of cinematic travesties. I’m looking at you “The Last Airbender,” “After Earth,” “Lady in the Water,” “The Village” and “The Happening.” Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan decided to stray from the studio system to make “The Visit,” a personal and self-financed film that does not quite reach the quality of his early and best work, but is bizarre and entertaining enough to have us hoping his next “Signs” or “The Sixth Sense” is near.

Here is yet another found-footage horror film that actually has a commendable reason for being yet another found-footage horror film (and even makes a fun joke about conventional found-footage films toward the climax). The film is centered on a sister and a brother, Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who leave their mother for a couple days to visit their grandparents, played tremendously by Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie. Becca is an aspiring filmmaker, so she decides to document her and her brother’s stay,which is what makes this “found-footage” medium work well as a storytelling element.

As the sun rises and falls, Becca picks up more and more very questionable footage of her grandparents. They act strange during the day and even stranger at night, especially once Nana starts urging Becca to get inside the oven to clean it. Becca and Tyler’s excuses her parents for being old and asks the kids to wait it out, who both comply, remaining uneasy. Personally, I would have wished Nana and Pop Pop a lovely life and gotten myself on a train straight out of there, but I guess these kids have more patience than I do.

Suspense continues to effectively wring out as more unusual actions are taken by the grandparents. It all builds to a trademark Shyamalan plot-twist which I did not see coming and makes for an intense, frightening climax.

“The Visit” offers great entertainment as both a horror and as a comedy, which alone is very admirable since those are two genres very few directors succeed at blending effectively. The film acts more as a comedy early on as characterizations develop, and most of what Shyamalan delivers is surprisingly hilarious. Once the grandparents come into the picture, Shyamalan executes this immediate feeling of uneasiness and maintains that tone throughout. “The Visit” grows more intense and unsettling as it rolls along, all while sustaining a light touch of comedy.

I wouldn’t necessarily call “The Visit” horrific, but it’s genuinely creepy when it gets weird, especially at night when Nana’s either clawing at the wall, slithering around on the floor or running as if she’s being eaten alive by paranoia (which Tyler humorously mocks later in the film). Shyamalan also utilizes wide shots to showcase something strange happening from a distance, which is always chill-inducing. In one sequence, Nana interrupts a game of tag under the house, which stood out to me as one of the creepier moments in the film.

There are moments in this film when it’s pretty clear Shyamalan is parodying himself and the self-seriousness in some of the films he inflicted upon us, notably “The Happening” and “Lady in the Water.” We are finally laughing with him, rather than laughing at him.

Engaging, unsettling, weird and appropriately hilarious, “The Visit” is Shyamalan’s first good movie since “Signs” and makes me hope that we will one day experience another Oscar-caliber film from him (“The Sixth Sense” was nominated for several Academy Awards). For now, we have “The Visit,” which is perfectly fine by me.