I’ll say this about my dear old Grammy: though my summer stays with her were far from rousing — a typical visit would involve sanding and varnishing Pawpaw’s old prosthetic limbs which for some reason she kept in a pile on the floor of her pantry — she never maniacally insisted I crawl inside a large oven to clean it. That situation would have crossed the line to what psychologists call being “messed up.”
Yet that peculiar kitchen activity sets the tone for what Rebecca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler Jamison (Ed Oxenbould) can expect throughout the week they visit their grandparents’ home in rural Pennsylvania in M. Night Shyamalan return-to-form thriller, “The Visit.”
“I’m blind,” Tyler jokes after seeing grandma venture out into the hallway sans bloomers on the first night. (To be fair, the kids were warned not to leave their room after 9:30.)
That’s because Doris (Deanna Dunagan) has, apparently, something called Sundowners Syndrome, which is a nice way of saying, “don’t make any sudden movements while she’s slicing tomatoes and be sure to introduce yourself when you walk into the room, even if you just stepped away to the bathroom for a sec.” Grandpa John (Peter McRobbie) is getting on as well, though we’ll set-aside his unfortunate malady. (Not to get on an ageism rant here, but did you ever notice that old people in movies never jet-ski or shoot bottle-rockets at each other? It’s always dentures, orthopedic shoes, and, “I don’t understand these computer gizmos.” Just putting that out there.)
Understandably, the kids are modulating between being concerned and being skeezed-out.
“There’s nothing wrong, they’re just old,” mom Kathryn Hahn (“Bad Words”) assures via Skype, though she hasn’t seen them since leaving home 15 years ago over a family squabble. She’s wrong but reassuring, so they go about their plan of filming and interviewing for a documentary that Rebecca’s making to understand and possibly repair the fractured relationship between her mom and the grandparents. Thus, Shyamalan shoots the entire film from Rebecca’s and Tyler’s P.O.V. and makes them essentially the meddling kids in a Scooby-Doo mystery. It’s an oddly nostalgic plot that works.
There’s a good mix of the unsettling (grandma nimbly navigating, on all-fours, the crawlspace under the house playing hide-and-seek, for example) and the amusing (Tyler’s rapping). I laughed and shuddered in equal parts.
Good casting, though mostly unknowns, and a sustained creepy vibe with a huge trademark-Shyamalanian twist.