It's a case of Meet the Grandparents in M Night Shyamalan's new movie - Harry Guerin says it's well spooky and quirky down on the farm.

He's seen both days when it comes to critical and commercial success, but after the kickings dished out to Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth, M Night Shyamalan has rediscovered a fair whack of his mojo with chiller The Visit, a small budget movie ($5m) that will do the business, and a good example of a simple idea, done well.

When single parent Paula (Kathryn Hahn) is whisked away on a cruise as part of her job, kids Rebecca (Olivia De Jonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) head off from Philadelphia to rural Pennsylvania to stay with the grandparents they've never met. This family set-up is, to put it mildly, strained: Paula left home some 15 years earlier after a blazing row about her choices in life, and the wound has never healed. Bringing video cameras along to document their trip, Rebecca and Tyler hope they can build the bridges. But they barely have the bags unpacked when they realise all is not well with Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop-Pop (Peter McRobbie).

From the minute the kids get off the train you can feel the dread on your skin, and what follows gives a particularly creepy meaning to that old Sean O'Casey chestnut "If you want to know me come and live with me." Shyamalan is in no rush with the story as the siblings' unease mounts at their grandparents' behaviour – there's as much here about the ravages of old age as there is about things that go bump in the night. Don't worry, plenty do.

With nearly all the action taking place in the house and the yard outside, Shyamalan cranks up the claustrophobia, oddness and tension that wowed audiences in The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, once again proving that as with footballers so with filmmakers: form is temporary, class is permanent. Watching, you'll be taken back to the times in your own life when you were scared to be staying away from home. The viewer's bond with the two youngsters here is a strong one, even though one of them insists on rapping – easily one of the most disturbing things on screen.

There's an argument to be had about whether Shyamalan needed to go down the documentary footage route, and whether it actually deprives the film of some tension, but The Visit is far better than even his most staunch of defenders probably thought it would be. And mercifully, it's not set up for a sequel.