MOVIE MAN

M. Night Shyamalan returns for a nice Visit

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, September 16, 2015

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It must be tricky to come out of the cinematic blocks like a shot, sustain momentum for a while, then seemingly flame out.

That’s what happened to M. Night Shyamalan.

ABOUT THE FILM

While Shyamalan had moderate success as a writer – he penned “Stuart Little” (1999, Movie Man No. 318, 6) – he soared to fame via the third movie he directed, “The Sixth Sense” (1999, which the Movie Man famously did not see, choosing “Mystery Men” that week [MM No. 299, 5].)

It’s easy to forget the hubbub “The Sixth Sense” caused. It made almost $300 million in America and was required viewing.

Shyamalan had to follow up a huge hit, and he tried with “Unbreakable” (2000, MM No. 378, 8). It’s his best movie but made only $95 million.

But a big success came next: “Signs” (2002, MM No. 468, 8). It made $228 million despite a goofy ending (an echo of which appears in “The Visit”).

His penchant for “twist endings” pushed it a little too far for some with “The Village” – but not the Movie Man (2004, MM No. 571, 7).

However, then things got kinda wonky for Shyamalan.

Four very weak movies in a row damaged his reputation: “Lady in the Water” (2006), “The Happening” (2008), “The Last Airbender” (2010, MM No. 884, 3), and “After Earth” (2013).

Still, Shyamalan pushed forward. Even though his TV event, limited series “Wayward Pines” was bumped back a year, it was pretty good.

Now here’s “The Visit.” (Actually it’s the second movie this year with that title. The other is a documentary on how mankind would handle extraterrestrials coming to Earth.)

THE PLOT

A now 30-something mom (Kathryn Hahn) left her parents as a teen in a huff years before and has not seen them since. Now her mom and dad are reaching out to bury the hatchet – plus they want to see their two grandchildren, teens Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould).

Reluctantly, Hahn puts the kids on a train to visit the grandparents DeJonge and Oxenbould have also never seen.

All along the way, DeJonge is filming a “documentary” about the experience to help Hahn handle her still unexpressed fallout feeling about her folks.

An old couple meets the kids at the train station, Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie).

The foursome are always uneasy around each other and things get really bad when the grandparents begin acting strangely. Dunagan wanders the house at night, clawing the walls nude while McRobbie gets caught with a shotgun in his mouth and carrying strange small bags of something into a shed.

Finally, Hahn – who has been mostly out of touch on a cruise – delivers a bombshell about the old couple.

The kids need to flee right now, but that becomes very difficult, especially when DeJonge discovers why the kids were told to not look in the basement.

WHAT WORKS

There’s some pretty good acting here by the kids, and the grandparents are especially creepy.

Shyamalan does a good job of slowly revealing disturbing facts and building a steady feeling of dread.

An on-camera interview with Dunagan goes bad quickly. There’s a good “Paranormal Activity”-style jolt used effectively later on.

The mom’s reveal that shocks the children has some clout, even if you have deduced what’s going on.

The film is the right length at 94 minutes, and it’s a nice combo of scary/funny for most of it. Even the found footage gimmick isn’t too distracting.

BEST SCENE

The kids decide to play hide and seek under the pier-and-beam house, just like their mother did as a child.

Both filming, Oxenbould takes off with DeJonge soon following in the dusty, confined environment.

But something else is down there with them, and fun becomes horror pretty fast.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

The return to a sports incident (ala “Signs”) was a bummer. It’s called back, but is the least effective part of the film.

There’s some modern day slang – like “throwin’ shade” – which will make “The Visit” look ancient in about three months.

A running joke with young Oxenbould as a lily-white rapper is not very funny.

The ending, despite a quick nod to “The Blair Witch Project” conclusion, isn’t boffo.

THE RATING

This is a hard PG-13 with an f-bomb, violence, gore and some body fluid gross outs.

SUMMING UP

“The Visit” is what the Movie Man hoped it would be – good, scary fun.

NEXT UP

Probably “The Scorch Trials,” sequel to “The Maze Runner” over Johnny Depp’s “Black Mass.”

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