‘The Visit’ provides hope for Shyamalan’s cinematic future

“The Visit” is a 2015 comedy horror film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who is looking to return to form after a series of recent misfires. Shyamalan also wrote the screenplay.

With critically panned films such as “Lady in the Water,” “The Happening,” “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth,” fans of film and Shyamalan’s earlier work are wondering if there is any more magic left in him to make another good movie. It’s safe to say that “The Visit” gives hope for the future of Shyamalan’s career.

What stands out in “The Visit” compared to his other movies is the small budget of $5 million dollars. The decision to go smaller rather than take on a big blockbuster possibly took pressure off his shoulders and made him more comfortable.

The plot is straightforward and not difficult whatsoever. When a single mother sends her two children to meet their grandparents for the first time after a past disagreement, the children choose to document the visit for their mother. What the kids find out is their grandparents may not be as normal as they thought.

The decision to document the visit presented the opportunity for a found footage-style horror film. The found footage aspect was strong for the most part. There were a couple of moments that make you think “why are they still holding the camera?” but it wasn’t so distracting that it took you out of the film completely.

The film stars Olivia DeJonge (“The Sisterhood of the Night”), Ed Oxenbould (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”), Kathryn Hahn (“We’re the Millers”), Deanna Dunagan (“Have a Little Faith”) and Peter McRobbie (“Lincoln”). While it’s a relatively small and unrecognizable cast besides Kathryn Hahn, the acting was surprisingly satisfying.

Child actors can go either horribly wrong or shockingly well Thankfully, it was the latter. The standout was Oxenbould, who portrays the younger brother, Tyler Jamison. Oxenbould provides most of the film’s comic relief with inadequate rapping skills. The chemistry with his sister felt natural and realistic. The love and care they had for one another was genuine and didn’t feel fake.

DeJonge played older sister Rebecca Jamison, who is inspired to become a filmmaker. She is documenting the whole trip to her grandparents not only for her mother, but for herself, so she can develop her skills. She acted more like an adult for her age. The vocabulary she used was sharp and unexpected. She also had a vast knowledge on how to work a camera and what shots to use for certain purposes. She was very resourceful and capable of handling herself.

The grandparents, Doris (Dunagan) and John Jamison (McRobbie), were creepy at times, especially in a sequence that featured Doris, Rebecca and Tyler playing hide-and-seek in a crawl space. The unsettling behavior by Doris captured eeriness and anxiety in tight spaces.

The tones of comedy and horror mixed consistently and never detracted from the other. Even in the most tense moments there was a good sample of comedy which added more levity to the scenes. Shyamalan’s direction was reminiscent of his old work with a simple plot and few characters to focus on. There were typical Shyamalan trademarks for fans of his work. The cinematography was shot beautifully and clearly.

“The Visit” is a surprisingly good small film that breathes new life into a seemingly dead career. There is nothing new to offer with a movie like this but it does enough to be engaging and entertaining to notice any glaring mistakes. The story was crafted well with good performances from lesser known actors. Hopefully Shyamalan continues on this path and works his way back up to bigger movies or stay put in the smaller ones. The smaller ones seem to be more for him.