Few Hollywood directors carry as wild a reputation as M. Night Shyamalan. The former whiz kid behind modern classics like “The Sixth Sense” (1999) and “Signs” (2002) seemed destined for a career of outside-the-box masterpieces. Then, seemingly overnight, that destination shifted. The last decade of Shyamalan’s career has steadily served up one hot mess (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”) after another (“After Earth”) — his name now synonymous with gimmicky twists and little else. So now, without much to lose, the director returns to his scary movie roots with “The Visit.” Our fingers were crossed.
Unfortunately, things couldn’t have started off bumpier. In the first few minutes alone, we get our “found footage” premise (a gimmick that peaked five years ago), awkward moments of attempted humor, and a few rap freestyles. Siblings Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are dropped off for a week with the grandparents they’ve never met, and before you can say “suspicious,” things start getting weird. Grandma (Deanna Dunagan) bakes cookies during the day and wanders the house demonically at night. Grandpa (Peter McRobbie) chops wood outside and attacks random strangers in town. The story continues in typical horror movie fashion, with jump scares galore and a ridiculous amount of skepticism on the kids’ part.
But Shyamalan relies too heavily on the word “typical” here. He’s got a cast of surprisingly decent performers to work with, yet there isn’t anything to make it stand out from the flood of “Paranormal Activity” sequels that are still being cranked out every year. Long gone are the creative camera angles and less-is-more approach of his past work — now it’s all about chasing trends and blending in. The plot twist is great once it arrives, but it’s too little too late. And it doesn’t do much to contradict the notion of Shyamalan as a poor man’s Rod Serling.
Ultimately, “The Visit” hits its short term goal as a fun date movie with some scary twists. As for the long term goal of revitalizing Shyamalan’s career, well, let’s just say our fingers are still crossed.
Danilo Castro is a resident of Oro Valley and writer for the Film Noir Archive blog at