You’d have to be a cheap lay to call the horror comedy The Visit a full-on comeback for M. Night Shamalayan, the plot twist-loving director who, for a heartbeat, got hailed as the second coming of Hitchcock with The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. But after Shamayalan’s crash and burn with that Will Smith-Jaden Smith’s big budget 2013 sci-fi After Earth, on the heels of such other head-scratchers as Lady in the Water, The Happening, and the mercifully euthanized franchise The Last Airbender, you’d have to consider The Village a bit of an uptick.
Shaky cam and old school, The Visit’s a spooky, so-so little fairy tale based on the premise that older people are inherently bizarre. Sounds legit — so long as you’re making movies for super young, slow, and gullible audiences. It’s a bit of a plus that, although Shamayalan’s screenplay is wildly illogical, it’s also less jokey and pretentious than usual. The guy is never more unintentionally funny than when going for Big Themes or poetic dialogue as in The Happening. The Visit sets up a single, selfish absentee mother (Kathryn Hahn) — a movie mother cliché who never gets asked a single question that would have clarified the mystery in a snap —who ships off her two annoying kids (Olive DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) to spend a week on the remote old homestead of their grandparents (August Osage County Tony Award-winner Deanna Dunagan and Daredevil’s Peter McRobbie, both lots of fun). Moms, who wants to take off on a trip with her new squeeze, hasn’t seen her estranged parents in 15 years. And the place can’t even get cellphone service.
Anyway, so after ignoring their 9:30 curfew and bedtime, the kids get an eyeful of granny scratching around the walls in her birthday suit and upchucking as she storms the hallways. Then, there’s gramps, always at the ready with a logical explanation but who keeps the secret of his axe-loving nuttiness in a smelly nearby shed. Just when we’re expecting big reveals and hair-raising surprises, everything always boils down to unhinged old timers — a cliché about as original as “It was all a bad dream.” For fans of true horror and those pulling for the Shamayalan renaissance, The Visit will make you cringe.