Davis: Shyamalan reboots career with The Visit

(The director) seems to have hit the reset button and taken a step back with a much smaller budget…for The Visit.

I once called filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan the new Spielberg after his successes with The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. However, his ability to attract critics and audiences to his unorthodox stories with twists waned with The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening and his once “above the title” name appeared nowhere near the title of the Will Smith bomb After Earth.

There is even a website that someone set up to crowd source enough money to send him back to film school (if you don’t believe me, go to www.mnightschool.org). With his latest, he seems to have hit the reset button and taken a step back with a much smaller budget—going from $130 million for After Earth down to $5 million for The Visit.

The Visit is the story of a brother and sister who are sent to their grandparents’ remote Pennsylvania farm for a week to meet them for the first time. It sounds like fun at first because grandma’s first two rules are: 1) Have a great time and 2) Eat as much as you want. However, the third rule sounds quite ominous: 3) Don’t ever leave your room after 9:30 p.m.

The kids soon find out that the elderly couple is involved in something deeply disturbing and see their chances of getting back home safely growing smaller every day.

Shyamalan is known for his twists, and here is one that is not a plot ‘spoiler’ but rather a change in storytelling style that people may not see coming from the usually serious director: Apparently The Visit has quite a bit of comedy blended in with the scares. And if it works, it could be the most surprising twist in a Shyamalan movie since The Sixth Sense.

The Visit will likely not have the box office clout of some of his earlier movies, but if it reaches its expected $15 million opening weekend, it will be a financial success—and maybe he will not have to go back to film school.

It is a relatively quiet weekend for new movies as the weekend after Labour Day can be the quietest of the year, but there is a lot of noise coming out of Canada’s largest city as The Toronto International Film Festival kicks off this week. It is one of the biggest in the world because it is the first chance for studios, critics and audiences to see many of the films that will go on to be Academy Award winners.

In past years, TIFF saw the premieres of Slumdog Millionaire, Precious, The King’s Speech, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook and 12 Years a Slave. The headliner this year is the highly anticipated Ridley Scott/Matt Damon collaboration The Martian, making its world premiere at the festival (the rest of the world gets to see it starting Oct. 2).

There are 289 feature films being shown this year, 256 of which are world, international or North American premieres. Pay attention to what movies create the biggest buzz at TIFF and you can start making your predictions early.