The “found footage” genre has been overdone even before the most recent ‘Paranormal Activity’ installment, and I must admit when I first saw the trailer of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest release ‘The Visit,’ I rolled my eyes and dismissed it as nothing more than another desperate attempt to turn around a sinking career which suffered one setback after another with such critical flops as ‘The Village,’ ‘Lady in the Water,’ ‘The Happening’ and ‘The Last Airbender.’ Regardless, I went to see it anyway because: (a) it’s “horror” and (b) it’s an M. Night Shyamalan movie. And who knows? Maybe there’s a trademark Shyamalan WTF???!!! twist at the end.
‘The Visit’ does have a twist, but it’s more subtle and less jarring than one would expect from Shyamalan. That’s not a bad thing either, because ‘The Visit’ is refreshingly different from any of his previous films. While the movie possesses some scary moments, it is also rather funny. On the surface, ‘The Visit’ seems to address the creeping infirmities and frailties of aging that we must all face someday, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously or wrap itself in sentimentality like Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour.’ Told from the POV of two young teens visiting their “nana” and “pop pop” for the first time because their mom ran away from home when she was 19 and never reconciled with her parents, ‘The Visit’ worked for me largely due to the fine performances delivered by its two unknown young stars.
Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge are simply a joy to follow as Tyler and Rebecca, the precocious siblings witty beyond their years, even if their maturity lags somewhat behind. One is a snarky overachiever who's making a documentary of the visit in order to bring her mom some closure (or "elixir" as she calls it) after leaving on bad terms so long ago, while the other is a goofy improv rapper and former pee wee football safety who, well, you just have to see for yourself. With ‘The Visit,’ Shyamalan demonstrated that he still has a few tricks up his sleeves even if it falls short of a true comeback. Stay tuned.