150913thevisitposterSomething strange is going on with Grandma. And to a teenager, the oddities of the elderly can seem flat-out terrifying.

That’s the surprisingly clever premise of the new film from famed and fallen horror director M. Night Shyamalan in the new comedy/thriller in theaters now called “The Visit.”

Shyamalan made an instant movie classic in 1999 with his breakout film “The Sixth Sense” and its eerie tagline, “I see dead people.” But after another hit in “Signs,” a film with strong pro-Christian elements, Shyamalan’s movies declined swiftly in quality until three complete stinkers in a row, beginning with the laughably bad “The Happening,” shipwrecked his once promising career.

But Shyamalan has now righted the ship in “The Visit,” a movie that plays at being both a horror movie and a comedy in an original and satisfying blend.

The audience watches the movie through two teenagers’ eyes, and, when shot in the style of a horror movie, suddenly Grandma and Grandpop’s oddities seem outright ominous.

It’s really rather genius the way Shyamalan makes mold in the basement, a wooden shed, a strict 9:30 bedtime, listening to the radio instead of the TV, incontinence, depression, and early signs of dementia seem suddenly so strange and frightening … but then makes you laugh at yourself for finding such commonplace things scary.

I mean, there’s nothing really scary about the maladies of old age. Right?

Or is there … ?

I’ll say no more, for Shyamalan has made twist endings his trademark, but I’ll warn audiences – there does come a point when the laughing stops and the screaming starts … that is, if you scream at such things. I personally found the humorous opening and clever twists had me smiling all the way through, even when it got “scary.”

As for worldview, some would say the film is an insult to the elderly, but I don’t think that’s really fair. The point of the movie is that we know better, and that’s why we find it funny when we’re scared like children who don’t. It isn’t a commentary on the elderly so much as it’s a commentary on the naiveté of children.

And the movie also has an emotional subplot between the grandparents and the teens’ mother, who haven’t seen one another in 15 years over a blow-up they’re all ashamed about. In the end, it’s the consequences of holding a 15-year grudge that lead to the truly horrifying events the teens encounter.

The movie even illustrates the power and importance of forgiveness and warns, “Please, don’t hold on to anger.”

That’s not nearly as catchy a tagline as, “I see dead people,” but it is a better lesson.

And while “The Visit” isn’t nearly as good a film as “The Sixth Sense,” it is an entertaining movie in the horror genre with a positive message, a handful of laughs and just enough jump scenes to jumble your popcorn bucket.

Here’s hoping Shyamalan, whose work in “Signs” is perhaps my favorite horror film of all time, will make more like “The Visit” and be done with his “Happening.”

Content advisory:

  • “The Visit,” rated PG-13, contains about a dozen obscenities and profanities.
  • The film contains no romantic storylines or sex scenes, but does have some sexual rap lyrics, and the mother shows some cleavage and skin when she Skypes in from a cruise ship. Most notably, however, the grandmother in the film splits her skirt and shows off a bare buttock, and in a fit of dementia is briefly seen fully nude (from the rear).
  • As the movie nears its climactic ending, there is some brutal violence, including [SPOILER ALERT] physical violence, killings that happen just off screen and some dead bodies. Early in the film, “The Visit” includes a scene of vomiting, and there are a few gross scenes involving human feces.
  • Surprisingly, the film contains no occult references, and its only religious reference is a line in a song over the closing credits that sings about “walking on water.”

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