Is M. Night Shyamalan back to his best?

M. Night Shyamalan, a director who has been an enigma to many over the past decade or so, had his latest release The Visit open in North America this weekend, sixteen years after he shot to fame with The Sixth Sense. That journey of sixteen years has hardly been easy. It has not been a period of periodic rises and falls as many film-makers have seen; rather, it had a stupendous rise early on before a sharp downward plunging fall. I have loved Shyamalan’s work, more so in the early days right upto The Happening, then in a guarded manner with The Last Airbender, until I too ran out of excuses when I saw After Earth. What seemed like such a shining career had been shredded into pieces as Shyamalan clearly lost his way with what he was creating, forgot what he was good at, and became a bane for the studios. When the promotions of Sony’s After Earth chose to ignore Shyamalan in an obvious manner, it seemed like the final nail in the coffin (and then the movie flopped badly too).

Shyamalan's The Visit_Shyamalan

When Shyamalan’s next film was announced, initially titled Sundowning before being released as The Visit, I chose to hope once more in the director. My post then was titled ‘Will Sundowning be the return of Shyamalan?‘ The reason for my optimism lay in the fact that the movie seemed to be reminiscent of the Shyamalan of old. A creepy plot, with a mystery somewhere embedded in it, faraway from the CGI-filled movies like The Last Airbender and After Earth. It seemed to be Shyamalan going back to his roots. To add to that, The Visit had a production budget of only $5 million (no studio would have wanted him anywhere near a bigger budget movie!) which had been funded by Shyamalan himself, before being joined by Jason Blum, a man famous for building movies on a ‘micro-budget’.

Shyamalan's The Visit_Scene

Now the first weekend estimates are out, and the verdict is – The Visit is a hit! Forbes reports that the movie is likely to have a $25.7 million opening in North America, which is impressively five times more than the production budget. I have not seen the movie yet, so I cannot comment on its cinematic quality. But going by what the critics say, The Visit looks to be a film by the Shyamalan who directed The Sixth Sense rather than the one who gave us After Earth.

The graph below gives a good idea as to how Shyamalan’s movies have opened in North America against their production budgets (figures are in USD million). The disaster of Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender and After Earth, and the triumph of The Visit are clearly visible.

Shyamalan's The Visit_Movie opening weekends

Critically too, The Visit has done much better as compared to the recent works of Shyamalan. This graph gives the critics’ score on Rottentomatoes for Shyamalan’s movies. The Visit does give the imagery of a phoenix rising from the ashes, doesn’t it?

Shyamalan's The Visit_Rottentomates scores

The Visit could gross around $70 million in North America alone, and manage to cross $100 million globally. That would be an exceptional return on the investment made in the movie, and would place it as one of the big horror movie hits of recent times. More so, it would revive the career of M. Night Shyamalan, restore a bit of his lost credibility and reinstate the faith of the audience in his work. Does this mean he is truly back at his best? No one can be sure about that, for just as a director should not be dismissed off with one bad movie, the reverse too holds true for one good comeback. But I certainly would like to believe that M. Night Shyamalan has learnt from his past mistakes, that he has returned to the genre which he is best suited for, and that his future movies would only add onto the good work he has done in The Visit. For me at least, M. Night Shyamalan is back.


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