Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Olivia De Jonge, Ed Oxenbould
3 (out of 5) Globes
Despite the vitriol often heaped his way, there are many things M. Night Shyamalan does well — indeed, better than most. He’s strong with slow, creeping mood, and not only when building suspense sequences. He knows the value of off-screen space. His sincerity often curdles into unintentional camp, but when he deals with overcoming trauma he often achieves real transcendence. (Shyamalan has said he didn’t come up with the dead people angle in “The Sixth Sense” until a few drafts in, and the best parts — Haley Joel Osment’s abrupt, climactic confession of his powers to his mom, say — play like straight-up therapy.)
Almost none of these talents are what make “The Visit” as rollicking as it is. In fact, the things that it does well are things that have generally, for him, gone disastrously, namely comedy and quick footing. Shyamalan is rarely intentionally funny, and when he tries to crack jokes one laughs at them, not with them. (Think of Mark Wahlberg’s earnest plea with what turns out to be a fake house plant in “The Happening” — a poorly-timed gag dropped into a movie already bursting at the seams with laugh-at-the-movie yuks.) But “The Visit,” in which he crashes the party of cheapie found footage horror, is funny, or at least fun. It’s not a gag machine but it has a vervy, zippy zeal and, minus a subplot about estranged parents, close to no po-faced moments. It doesn’t take itself seriously and for once it warmly welcomes you to giggle (and maybe scream once or twice, but that’s not important) along with it.
Despite the credits boasting the name Jason Blum, the king of “Paranormal Activity” and ilk, “The Visit” isn’t technically found footage. It’s a mock-doc, and one with the camera largely set on surfaces, and therefore clean-looking. (Still, only two instances of shaky-cam running is something worth applauding.) The film-within-the-film is made by two kids — aspiring filmmaker teen Rebecca (Olivia De Jonge), who drops terms like “mise en scene” like it’s hot, and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) — as they shlep off to the grandparents’ for a week-long hoedown.