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Movie Review: M. Knight Shyamalan's The Visit

In a perfect world, a movie reviewer will go into a film with no pre-conceived notions. Unfortunately, as a writer and critic, I’m constantly steeped in movie news, trailers, and a long selection of films that have honed my tastes and colored my preconceptions. With The VisitM. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, I’m also saddled with the baggage that I haven’t liked any of his films since Signs. And while I enjoyed Signs, the ending was laughably bad.

Since then, he’s made one stinker after another, getting progressively worse from the pinacle of The Sixth Sense and my personal favorite film, Unbreakable, all the way down to The Last Airbender and After EarthThe Visit was Shyamalan’s effort to return to the greatness of his first films, but I had already written it off in my mind as another wasted effort.

Oh man, was I wrong! The Visit proves that Shyamalan knows how to wring tension from any scene, and can make an exceptional film. I forgot what an exceptional talent he could be behind the camera when he isn’t so self-involved with his own work.

The premise is simple, two children visit their grandparents for a week after their mother has been estranged with her parents for the past fifteen years. The kids plan to document the trip and make a documentary for their mother, who is on a Caribbean cruise while they’re visiting. As the days wear on, the kids notice Nana and Pop-pop exhibiting strange behaviors. But can this be chalked up to their grandparents being old, or is there something more sinister going on?

The Visit is pretty tense from the time the children arrive at their grandparents, but it's also suprisingly hilarious. Sometimes a horror film is unintentionally funny, but in this, Shyamalan expertly weaves between comedy and nail-biting horror, sometimes within seconds of each other. All of the actors do a great job but Deanna Dunagan, who plays grandma Doris, needs to be given recognition as she can switch between being absolutely terrifying and incredibly sweet.

Since this is a Shyamalan film, yes, there is a twist at the end. But unlike the past several films, this twist not only makes sense, but it fits nicely within the context of the film. It’s also so obvious that I’m kicking myself for not catching on to it before the reveal. The last time I felt that way was, well, The Sixth Sense.

This film had everything going against it: it was a found footage-style film (which I hate), helmed by a director I had already written off long ago, and the trailer didn’t grab me as being particularly scary (see below). Wherever Shyamalan has been for the last several years, he is truly back and in great form. Hopefully this is the first in a series of great films from the director, and not just an anomaly.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Here's the trailer:

Image: The Visit