The Visit—The AllMovie Review

★ ½

M. Night Shyamalan returns to his horror roots in an attempt to reboot his stalled career following the big-budget flops The Last Airbender and After Earth, but his found-footage movie The Visit, financed with five million dollars of his own money, elicits more laughs than screams. It’s yet another misfire from the once-promising director, whom Newsweek hailed in 2002 as the “next Spielberg” after the successes of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs.

In The Visit, teen siblings Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) go on a weeklong visit to their grandparents’ remote Pennsylvania farm, where they learn that the elderly pair, whom they have never met before, are either extremely eccentric or deeply disturbed. As the week progresses, the couple’s behavior grows more and more bizarre. You know something is amiss when grandma runs around the house naked late at night and claws at the woodwork, or laughs hysterically while staring at a blank wall. And grandpa is just as wacko: He assaults a stranger on the street whom he insists was stalking him, and keeps his soiled adult diapers piled up in a nearby woodshed. Becca and Tyler, of course, become increasingly concerned, not only about Nana and Pop Pop’s welfare, but their own safety as well. Unfortunately, there’s no cell-phone service on the farm, dad is out of the picture, and their mother (a solid but underused Kathryn Hahn) is taking a cruise with her new boyfriend. They manage to talk to her via Skype, but they don’t want to ruin her vacation by complaining about Nana and Pop Pop. Eventually, the kids’ worst fears come to pass and they must fight to survive.

The Visit is presented as a documentary being shot by Becca and Tyler with a pair of digital cameras. Becca in particular wants to explore the house where her mom grew up, and discover what happened 15 years ago that resulted in her leaving home and cutting ties with her parents. Yet, as with many found-footage films, the handheld gimmick quickly grows tiresome and adds little suspense or intrigue to the story. Shyamalan plays many scenes purely for laughs, which undercuts the fright factor, and relies too heavily on jump scares to provide screams. And, as with almost all of his movies, there is a pivotal third-act twist. While it ratchets up the tension considerably, the twist — which many viewers will see coming well before it arrives — isn’t really plausible, and certainly isn’t interesting enough to save this lame enterprise.

On a positive note, the cast are uniformly excellent. Tony winner Deanna Dunagan is effectively creepy as Nana; Peter McRobbie is truly menacing as Pop Pop; and Olivia DeJonge is superb as Becca, anchoring the film with her sensitive portrayal of a teen struggling to understand both her own identity and her family’s. But Oxenbould (terrific in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) steals the movie as Tyler, whose comedic raps and antics provide a number of amusing moments.

Shyamalan’s latest isn’t as embarrassing as Lady in the Water or as brain-dead as The Happening, but that is faint praise indeed. It’s strictly horror lite, and simply isn’t worth the visit.