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(2015) (Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould) (PG-13)

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Horror: Teenage siblings must contend with odd, spooky and increasingly perilous behavior when they visit their grandparents who they've never met before.
Teenagers Becca (OLIVIA DeJONGE) and Tyler (ED OXENBOULD) have never met their maternal grandparents. And that's because their mom (KATHRYN HAHN) had a falling out with them fifteen years ago when she was nineteen and hasn't seen them since. She won't talk about what happened the day she left, but it turns out they were right about the guy she was seeing who eventually left their marriage for another woman.

Now dating someone new, she's heading off for a cruise vacation and thus sends her kids to stay for a week with her parents. An intellectual aspiring filmmaker, Becca wants to document her mom's childhood home and discover what happened, while her younger brother simply enjoys performing with his rapper alter-ego persona.

When they get to their grandparents' farm house, Nana (DEANNA DUNAGAN) and Pop Pop (PETER McROBBIE) seem pleasant and dote on the teens. But things start turning weird, starting with Nana chasing the kids in the crawl space beneath the house, half-playfully, half-menacingly. It gets even weirder at night when Becca spots Nana walking on the first floor and projectile vomiting.

Pop Pop explains that she suffers from "sundown syndrome," while she later explains his discovered collection of soiled diapers being a medical condition that embarrasses him. The kids initially accept these explanations, but as weird, spooky and eventually perilous things start occurring, they try to figure out what's happening and how best to handle their remaining days there.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
My grandmother and step-grandfather on my dad's side lived in an old farm house in the Shenandoah Valley. It was the kind of place that could and did give me the willies, along with some related nightmares as a kid.

That not only stemmed from bats literally living in the attic, but also a dark shed with lots of old and scary looking tools, not to mention a creepy basement with a big and angry-looking furnace that made lots of odd noises and insured I never ventured further than the bottom of the steps.

That aside, I was never remotely afraid of my grandparents. Granted, I knew them my entire life, they were always nice and doted on me, and never once did either of my grandmothers ask me to get inside the oven to clean it.

If you've seen the trailer or commercials for "The Visit," you'll know why I bring up that obvious Hansel and Gretel scene reference that's earned this horror flick some buzz. It's also generating good notices for its writer/director who previously creeped many of us out with "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs" before becoming fully addicted to the big twist that came to identify and ultimately derail much of his later films and career (capped with the universally detested "After Earth" that was scary only in terms of how bad it was).

And that would be none other than M. Night Shyamalan who had been pretty much written off by much of Hollywood and moviegoers, but may just have resurrected himself with this effort. Alternatingly creepy and funny, and featuring characters you come to like and care about, the film tells the tale of two teenagers (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) who've never met their grandparents due to a falling out their mother (Kathryn Hahn) had with them when she was just a teen.

With her set to head off on a vacation cruise with her new boyfriend, she figures it's okay to have her teens spend a week with her parents and get to know them. And with Becca being an aspiring filmmaker, that gives the girl reason to make a documentary film about her mom and grandparents and get to the bottom of what happened the fateful day she moved out never to see them again.

That nearly derails the pic in my opinion, mainly from it justifying the sort of handheld, run around with a camera shaky footage that I've grown to detest, not only from its nausea-inducing style, but also from such a filming approach that often showcases laziness on the part of the filmmaking team (and is sometimes used to cover up shooting problems and generate forced scares).

Fortunately, the rest of the material works quite well in terms of delivering a haunted fun house experience where most viewers will laugh, jump and get creeped out in equal doses. Shyamalan has written movie versions of his teenage characters (rather than creating fully realistic teens), but that works to his and the film's advantage. Since they're entertaining, we come to like being in their company and thus worry about them as they spend increasingly uncertain time with Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) who initially seem to be typical grandparents with some old-age issues.

Some odd behavior concerns the kids, but each grandparent explains away the issues the other is facing, and thus the teens don't raise their guard enough until it's almost too late. While there are a few nitpicky objections with some elements of the plot and related character behavior, Shyamalan mixes the humor and suspense into such an agreeable potion that you don't mind just going along for the ride. Dunagan and McRobbie are believably unstable and unsettling in their performances to make their characters believable, while DeJonge and especially Oxenbould are terrific in their parts.

And while the filmmaker throws in his trademark big twist, it feels organic rather than forced, and not everything hinges on that (although it is pivotal and explains everything). At least I was engaged enough that I wasn't constantly looking for that twist and trying to figure it out before it arrived, something that bedeviled many of Shyamalan's later "gotcha" offerings.

If you enjoy being entertained by your suspenseful horror films rather than simply and only being scared, you might want to schedule your own visit to "The Visit." It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 8, 2015 / Posted September 11, 2015

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