If you follow genre cinema, you're probably quite familiar with the rise and fall of M. Night Shyamalan. He was once considered the next great practitioner of the supernatural thriller, and for a while he held onto that reputation. Then came films like The Last Airbender, After Earth and The Happening, and in many nerd circles he became the "Why do they keep hiring this guy?" director.
Things are looking up for Shyamalan this year, though. He already has a hit thanks to the success of the TV series Wayward Pines, which he executive-produced, and there's intriguing buzz building around The Visit, a low-budget, intimate thriller that Shyamalan spent $5 million of his own money to make. Watching the trailers for The Visit, you get a sense of the early Shyamalan, the guy interested less in big-budget high-concept pieces and more in making something as simple as your own bedroom terrifying. For some fans, the film is a glimmer of hope that we could see the old Shyamalan at work again.
So, what's changed? In a new interview with the New York Times, Shyamalan credits a change in his filmmaking outlook, in part, to working in television, where he no longer was surrounded by the trappings of blockbusters.
“Because there are fewer resources in television, I learned how much fat I had on me, how many puffed-up bad habits,” he said. “There was this great feeling of slowly shedding the fat.”
Shyamalan also admits to having a better understanding now of where his cinematic failures started. The Times piece describes him as being too "trapped in his own head," and Shyamalan himself notes that the cinematic landscape shifted around him, even as he was determined to make a particular kind of movie that, it turns out, his audience didn't want.
“I didn’t realize that the sweet spot had shifted,” he said. “Once upon a time, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan were way over to one side, barely hanging on the table. They were just too somber and dark. And now they are dead center. Meanwhile, I was busy being sentimental. ‘Airbender’ was based on a children’s show and rated PG. ‘Lady in the Water’ started as a bedtime story I told my daughters.”
Now Shyamalan's returned to his roots, with a self-funded thriller that impressed audiences who saw a screening at San Diego Comic-Con. We don't yet know how the rest of the world will react to The Visit, but for Shyamalan, pouring so much of his own money into the film meant he had to match his talents to the size of the risk he was taking.
“That may have been really stupid,” he said of funding the film himself. “But it heightened the risk. There was only one way out of this one. I had to make a great movie. It just had to work.”
The Visit opens Sept. 11.
(Via The New York Times)