The director who delivered “The Sixth Sense” is now a cinematic punchline, but he’s back once more to reclaim his artistic mojo with “The Visit.”
The new shocker trots out cinema’s worst card trick – the found footage gimmick – but manages to make us laugh for a good hour. It’s supposed to be a horror film, though, and by the time the big reveal occurs we’re more likely to snicker than shake in our seats.
Aspiring teen filmmaker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her wannabe rapper brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are off to see their grandparents for a week of family fun. They’ve never met Grandma and Pop Pop, though. Their mom (Kathryn Hahn) had a falling out with her parents years ago, and the sides haven’t spoken since. Becca wants to capture every aspect of the family reunion on film.
Only these affable oldies sure act funny. They insist the kids stay in their room after 9:30 pm, make the oddest noises after dark and demand the children stay out of the cellar.
It’s got mold, doncha know.
Some Tricks Up His Sleeve
What a ripe setup, something Shyamalan still knows how to assemble. He’s got his stand-up comedy cap on, too. Young Tyler is a hoot, a wiseacre with fine comic timing. But what about the scares?
“The Visit” delivers some early goosebumps and the promise of a tasty reveal. Just why are Grandma and Pop Pop so odd? What’s their secret? The more you know, the less you’ll care, and the potential scares simply dry up as a result. The film has little kind to say about getting older, too, an odd nasty streak in an otherwise comical portrait.
Fathers eager for their children to sample the horror genre are advised to give “The Visit” their attention. It’s PG:13, offers very little gore and provides two teen protagonists. Younger viewers will be forgiving of the shaky camera work that feels like yet another YouTube clip montage. Even less sophisticated minds may revolt, though, when our young heroes refuse to put down the camera and just … run. It’s the Achilles heel of most found footage films.
Those who know how good horror can be will quickly lose patience with “The Visit” and Shyamalan. No, he’s not “back,” nor will he ever be, most likely. The writer/director never corrals the tone of the film, veering from family dysfunction to purposely misogynistic raps like a drunk deciding on the next bar to visit. The film’s final two scenes are so wildly different it’s like they belong in two distinct movies.
At this point, a mildly diverting shocker with a few well-earned laughs is the best we can hope from the once golden auteur.