Is “The Visit” M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback film? He certainly thinks so. “It’s a contained movie and I love contained movies,” he said Thursday in San Diego, where Comic-Con is now underway. “The posters on my wall are ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ ‘Diabolique,’ ’12 Angry Men.’ It’s part of a deep aesthetic philosophy that I have that the film needs to be incomplete. ‘Is she good? Is she evil?’ There’s passive entertainment and it’s all over the place. But we contribute just a little bit to every great [movie].”
Of course, it helps that “The Visit” (opening September 11 from Universal) is a return to what Shyamalan does best: small, personal, scary fables that get under our skin. And he has indie producer Jason Blum (“Whiplash,” “Paranormal Activity”) protecting his vision, and his back, with the studio, after making the movie on his own. “When everyone is saying it’s not there or I don’t get it, Jason goes, ‘You did something incredible and I’m going to prove to everyone that it’s going to reach audiences,'” the director continued.
Basically, “The Visit” is his midlife crisis film. It’s about the fear of the elderly, exemplified by a brother and sister (Ed Oxenbould and Olivia De Jonge) who are terrified during a visit to their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie). “For me, this fear of old people is an extension of our fear of death,” Shyamalan explained. “When our mind and body deteriorate, that’s scary. We find it funny/scary, which we play with in the movie. There are three generations and I get to talk about where they are in their lives: The mom [Kathryn Hahn] is trying to figure out what she’s going to do for the rest of her life.”
Shyamalan identifies with both the mom and her daughter, who’s an aspiring filmmaker. In fact, he uses her filmmaking as a found footage device, but as a backdoor conceit. “I did a baby version of that in ‘Signs’ with the Brazilian birthday party. And for me this is actually a flip because when you see it, you’ll forget the footage thing. It’s just not on your mind. And that I consider it’s greatest strength. It’s more of an extension of her character.”
Shyamalan also couldn’t be more pleased with the marketing campaign. It’s tricky conveying a movie that’s “a weird, dark comedy, scary thing.” And he said it’s the only movie besides “Signs” that’s been marketed accurately and that the trailer (below) hits all the right tones.
The director still maintains that “Unbreakable” is his favorite but “Lady in the Water” has climbed to second place. “If the house was burning down, I’d grab those two movies. They are the most ‘me.’ I have no perspective yet but I suspect that ‘The Visit’ will be the third. It’s just so oddly weird. When someone says only you could’ve made that movie, that’s the greatest compliment.”
In other words, Shyamalan wasn’t put here to make “After Earth” and “The Last Airbender.” He’s hoping “The Visit” will allow him to stay back on track with his “oddly weird,” contained brand of movies.