In 2002, director M. Night Shyamalan was put on the cover of Newsweek magazine with the caption, “The Next Spielberg.” At that time his meteoric rise in Hollywood seemed unstoppable, but since then, the speed of his rise has been put to shame by the trajectory of his fall.
It would even be fair to call Shyamalan one of the most hated directors in the world.
After disasters like “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth,” I was almost ready to jump off of Shyamalan’s bandwagon, too, but when I heard that he was returning to his horror roots with “The Visit,” I allowed myself to stick along for the ride for just a little bit longer. The road taken by “The Visit” is a bit bumpy, but I was more than happy to have gone over the river and through the woods to the home of these particular grandparents.
Of course visiting grandma and grandpa is usually a pleasant thought, but most people have instances when they were kids where they were frightened by some false teeth, a glass eye, hairy ears, or any other unfortunate result of aging, and Shyamalan builds an entire movie out of that.
What if those uncomfortable moments when you were confronted with your grandparent’s mortality was something a bit more sinister? “The Visit” is basically what would happen if kids let their imaginations run completely wild about their grandparents and then ended up being right.
This childhood nightmare is brought wonderfully to life by the young actors, Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould, but Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie as the kooky and creepy grandparents are the ones who carry the movie to another level. The story veers back and forth from scary to funny throughout, and the veteran performers turn what could have been a tonally-inconsistent mess into something manically brilliant.
Sometimes Shyamalan makes bad choices that are even too much for the acting to fix, but for the most part, he deserves praise as well. This film is as clever, thoughtful, and innovative as his early work and might end up being the most pleasant surprise of the year.
“The Visit” scores 8 pinched cheeks out of 10.