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This weekend, I watched The Visit. I didn’t mean to, exactly — my girlfriend’s teen sister was having a birthday, and we took her and a few friends out to celebrate. Said teens really, really wanted to see The Visit, so there I was, actually paying money to see a new M. Night Shyamalan movie. I thought it might be sort of terrible, like so many of the once-hailed director’s other modern efforts — the barely passable silliness of The Village, the unwatchable Lady in the Water, the laughable The Happening.

But no. The Visit came out of nowhere, and it made me scream and cling to the edge of my seat like no other horror movie in recent memory. Except for The Babadook last year.

Family drama

Let me first say that The Visit isn’t on quite the same level as The Babadook. Last year’s film about a frazzled single mother, her difficult young son and the horrible monster they unleash when they read a creepy book was a quiet masterpiece of modern horror. It’s worth watching again in relation to The Visit, and I’m going to return to it several times in this piece. Both movies trade common trope-y monsters for much more mundane (and effective) domestic terrors.

In The Visit, 15-year-old documentarian Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her younger brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) go for a visit to their grandparents, whom they’ve never met before. Their loving mother (Kathryn Hahn) is estranged from her parents, but agrees to the trip and goes off to her own vacation, leaving the precocious filmmaker and her rapper (yes, rapper) brother to visit “Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie)” on their own.

Something is clearly wrong from the start. Things aren’t quite right with the elders, and it all just gets weirder and worse for the kids as they make it through the week in the grandparents’ rural farmhouse.

Besides playing on the documentary format and “found footage” style of horror and winking directly at the camera through our young protagonist, The Visit gives voice to fears we all have about growing old. It looks at the awful realities associated with losing control of our bodies and our minds, about the literal horrors of growing old. It’s genuinely terrifying at times, without using supernatural goofiness as a crutch.

But, in a lot of positive ways, it mirrors the brilliant, seeping weirdness of The Babadook‘s brand of “mundane” terror. I can think of no better compliment for a modern horror movie of this scope, and no better comeback for the director who once worked real magic with the genre.

Welcome back, M. Night. I hope you have more creepy, terrifying tales to tell us.

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