The Visit is a fine return to form for M. Night Shyamalan. As writer and director, Shyamalan had free reign to return to some of the hallmarks that made his early work so spectacular: keen writing and coaching up some fine performances.
On the latter, this cast simply nailed it. Olivia DeJonge is a revelation as a wiser-than-her years filmmaker bent on producing a documentary that will give her tormented mother a measure of peace. DeJonge plays the role with panache and confidence, and one late interview she conducts with her brother will stir any hardened soul.
Ed Oxenbould plays her little brother, Tyler. A germophobic hip-hop artist, Tyler operates as an important plot catalyst and, in typical Shyamalan fashion, drops some important narrative hints along the way that figure heavily in the film's final act. Oxenbould and DeJonge feel authentic; they share a chemistry on the screen that compels the audience toward belief in their genuine caring for each other.
Deanna Dunagan (Nana) and Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop) are pitch-perfect as a pair of aging, borderline senile antagonists. This is their first meeting with their grandchildren, and things aren't going so well--especially when the sun goes down.
The film is bizarre. That game of hide-and-seek in the crawlspace is harrowing, right up until you see Nana's exposed rear end as she unknowingly heads upstairs after scaring the wits out of the kids. Her oblivious nonchalance in the face of something that is so clearly wrong is disquieting, and the audience that I watched it with blurted laughter--not out of humor, but out of discomfort.
And that's just it. It's a very uncomfortable film. The vomiting, the incontinence, and the strange speech patterns all point to dementia. But something else is happening here and, in true Shyamalan form, the director has a secret in store for us in those final terrifying scenes.
This is the best horror film that I've seen since The Conjuring. I give it an 'A' mark and I highly recommend that you see it in the theater. Go look at it during one of those early matinees when all of the folks that like to talk to the film are doing other things. It's a smart film that requires careful attention, and I'm glad to see one of my favorite artists back on top of his gift!