Kids visiting their grandparents should be a sublime thing, right? Maybe slightly boring, but certainly safe, and maybe even beneficial. After all, there can never be too many people who love your kids, right?
Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan is known for creating a certain tingling tension, and he does that here, as well, but along with a strange little comic infusion that somehow works.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge), the teenage older sister, is an aspiring filmmaker herself, who sees the occasion of actually meeting her grandparents for the first time as an opportunity for her to record the moment, and practice her handheld camera skills. Her younger brother, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) is into pop culture, specifically, rap music, and is more than happy for his sister to be filming him all the time, because, after all, he's going to be a star, and he needs the practice in front of the camera. No, they're not the typical spend-every-Saturday-on-the-soccer-field kind of suburban kids. But then, their family isn't typical, either. Their single Mom (Kathryn Hahn), for whatever reason, hasn't seen her folks since she left home in a huff as a teenager herself. Dad's not in the picture, so when Mom suddenly finds a boyfriend who wants to go on a cruise, she needs to find a place for her kids to stay. And she figures it's about time her kids met her parents. Enter the long-lost grandparents.
After The Visit commences, we begin to understand why Mom would have stayed away from these nut cases. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) roams the house after dark in her nightgown, scratching at walls and crawling on the floor, which Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) attributes to “Sundowner's Syndrome,” where his wife kind of loses her marbles after the sun goes down. So he advises the kids to just not leave their room after 9:30 p.m. Sure enough, the next morning, there's Nana, fully clothed and in her right mind again, breezily offering to fix them breakfast.
Pop Pop is absent most of the time, doing chores around the farm (though we don't see any farm animals, and we're not sure if there are any crops to tend, since it's winter and there's already snow on the ground). Occasionally, Pop Pop will suddenly show up in a doorway, but he doesn't appear to be leering; he just seems socially awkward, as if he can't quite figure out what to say. Well, that's understandable, since he hasn't had much practice at this grandfather role.
But Becca and Tyler, who have a pretty good rapport for young siblings, quickly figure out that something is creepy around here. They're told not to go into the basement, “because of the mold,” but Becca finds that her budding reporter's curiosity compels her to investigate, anyway, and what she finds there is rather disturbing. So is the walking in on her Pop Pop in the barn, and seeing him with a loaded shotgun in his hand (it's not hunting season).
Yes, there are some things that go bump in the night, and a few jump-out-at-you moments, but alternating with the skin-crawling episodes are some lighthearted banter between the siblings, and some humorous “kid-rap” from Tyler. The hand-held cameras present lots of opportunities for mugging, which sometimes is silly and other times borders on the creepy, which is exactly the rhythm and pacing that Mr. Shyamalan intends.
A PG-13 comedy/horror? Yes, it actually works surprisingly well.