Entertainment

‘The Visit’ sets off fright-o-meter

Olivia DeJonge, left, and Kathryn Hahn appear in a scene from “The Visit.”
Olivia DeJonge, left, and Kathryn Hahn appear in a scene from “The Visit.” Universal Pictures via AP

What It’s About

Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan is back in masterful macabre mode with the creepy-good “The Visit” — and it’s about time.

This latest thriller is a deft blend of horror and unexpected humor, with the clever comedy saving the day.

Shyamalan effectively builds unnerving suspense and grabs us with his trademark twists, creating a believable and quite disturbing scenario.

Two engaging Australian youngsters, Olivia De Jonge and Ed Oxenbould, play siblings Becca and Tyler, eager to visit their grandparents on a remote Pennsylvania farm. They have never met Nana and Pop Pop because their newly single Mom (Kathryn Hahn) hasn’t spoken to them in 15 years. She left home to marry a man they did not approve of, thus the estrangement.

Her parents reach out one day, ask to meet their only grandchildren, and she obliges. While they are gone for a week, she goes on a cruise with a new beau.

The stay begins warm and cozy, but as with many elderly grandparents, there are some health conditions and strange behavior the kids notice. At first, everyone just shrugs it off as “old age,” but then actions, especially at night, get weirder, and events become unsettling.

Even with well-placed clues, I didn’t see the big jolt coming. And it’s a terrifying twist that I bought hook, line and sinker.

Once heralded as a new Hitchcock, Shyamalan burst on the scene with 1999’s now classic “The Sixth Sense,” earning him two Oscar nominations for directing and writing. He followed with the underrated “Unbreakable” in 2000 and the spooky “Signs” in 2002, respectable hits.

He still had me with “The Village” in 2004, but fell out of favor with a string of head-scratching flops: “The Lady in the Water, “The Happening,” “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth.”

It’s good to see Shyamalan resurrect a once promising career. He kept me on the edge — but laughing too, which isn’t easy to accomplish.

Performances

A solid cast helped keep the fright alive. Oxenbould (“Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”), as a precocious wannabe rapper stole every scene he was in, and made quite an impression. A star is definitely born.

A remarkably poised DeJonge is a captivating smart girl, aspiring to be a documentary filmmaker.

Chicago stage actress Deanna Dunagan (2007 Tony Best Actress winner in “August: Osage County”) is sly as the cookie-baking, doting Nana whose mercurial mood shifts are cause for alarm.

Veteran character actor Peter McRobbie (“Boardwalk Empire”) is imposing as a mysterious Pop Pop with a troubling dark side.

Kathryn Hahn (“Happyish”) excels as the regretful Mom, displaying genuine emotion that enhances the drama.

What Works

The slow-building suspense reminds one of “The Conjuring,” where you wonder what’s behind and underneath things, and in the shadows. Your imagination gets a workout.

The distress is palpable, and the images linger. You can’t play Yatzhee ever again without referencing this film.

What Doesn’t Work

The blood and gore is limited, so when it’s used, the impact is startling. The young boy must face one of the grossest elements ever used in a movie. Shudder.

Submerge your contemporary cynicism and jaded outlook, and you’ll have a far better time.

My fright-o-meter was off the charts.

3 stars out of 4

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ex Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn.

Rated: PG-13 for disturbing thematic material, including terror, violence, and some nudity, and for brief language.

Length: 1:34

  Comments