Frightening Fridays: History of a Hit or Miss Director/Writer – M. Night Shyamalan

 

I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t heard of M. Night Shyamalan or, at the very least, who hasn’t  seen at least one of his films. This would be the time I could say you’d be living under a rock if you haven’t, but if you truly haven’t heard of The Sixth Sense (nominated for 6 Oscars back in 2000), then I have to say it must be pretty snug under that rock. Empty, but snug. In the early 2000’s, Shyamalan was in his peak. The Sixth Sense (1999) starring Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis was a chilling story and twists that really had not been seen in film, at least in a long time, making Shyamalan a creative refreshment in the horror genre without being gory (which is the standard, unfortunately).

As if he was on a roll, Unbreakable (Willis again thankfully!) was equally an amazing film, though less horror than TSS, Now remember, when TSS was nominated, that same year we had movies coming out like Scream 3, American Psycho, Final Destination, The Beach, The Cell and more that kind of provided fear in the same way (though The Cell may be an exception, purely for its strangeness) while Shyamalan’s style pushed boundaries with fear by combining mystery, suspense and drama.

For at least his first two major films, he executed them well with a strong story, excellent cast (Unbreakable: Did I mention Bruce Willis AND Samuel L. Jackson?!), provided an alternative form to the usual film recipe we were all forced to eat. For Unbreakable, I would say this drama is my favorite superhero movie. At this point the superhero theme had only been done slightly, and more so overdone.

(Yes, I’m talking about the horrible and cheesy looking 1999 Batman & Robin film).

call me glass
Samuel Jackson is perfect in Unbreakable

If I’m going to share the GIF, then I need to share the best part of the film–the ending. So bare with me if you haven’t seen the film:

At this point, his success seems secured and depending on how you perceive that, he made two more excellent films: Signs and The Village. Signs needs no defense, it’s a great movie. The Village seems to receive mixed reviews. I will defend this film because in 2004, it was still a unique idea to capitalize on, emotionally intense and was well acted by the entire cast, especially Bryce Dallas Howard. Some reviewers may say the story was too vague and only serving a purpose to meet the twist; I disagree, especially consider this was the time remakes were starting to happen in every other film .

Then comes his not so great to plain horrendous films.

 

  • Lady in the Water – overly complicated and strange without much excitement
  • Devil not too bad, probably the best of this list
  • After Earth (only responsible for writing the screenplay, not the story itself but still…)
  • The Happening – should have never happened! (see what I did there?)
  • The Last AirbenderWorst film, perhaps ever made

 

Now, the premise of these films are interesting and Devil did the best from this list so one can see it’s more than just the writing, but miscasting and bad directing choices in times where other hit movies were competing make them stand out as failures. Let’s talk a look at this issues more thoroughly.

Lady in The Water (2006)

Competing films that year: The Departed, Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, Casino Royale, The Prestige, 300, Apocalypto, Inside Man, The Davinci Code, and much more. A hard list to compete with, especially consider the distorted story of LITW.

 

lady in water
How everyone felt after the movie – exhausted!

Biggest Blunder: The Last Airbender (2010)

Then you have not just miscasting but the large details being overlooked. Now, I will say when trying to transfer anything, whether a show or book or manga to screen, there are bound to be differences. But only to a point. Avatar: The Last Airbender (the movie) not only had chunks missing, the acting was subpar, too many details changed and authenticity of the characters suffered. And yes, I was pissed Zuko’s scar was largely ignored in the film compared to the show.

airbender

Not that I rely on reviews, but the one by Roger Ebert nailed it.

The Happening (2008)

I like Mark Wahlberg so I got through it and I did like the concept but I think it would have made a better novel than a film. Some ideas just don’t transfer well to screen which is why Shyamalan is such a creative individual who needs to think thoroughly on execution of said ideas. Or perhaps his ideas are too big to be in one film. For example, he directed the first season (and maybe only season?) of Wayward Pines. The first few episodes were a little rough but it got better because more of the characters were developed and the storyline was stretched along past a mere 2 hours.

Recent Film: The Visit

This feels like a film where he’s taken a step back and simplified the plot while still providing his creative flare. And of course there was a twist but it’s executed well and I don’t want to give too much on this film as it has enough value to see. From his last few projects, it’s a step in the right direction and I’ll stop at that.

The Verdict

After watching The Visit and Wayward Pines, I think Shyamalan would benefit with more simple storylines and settings to establish more rounded characters that audience members can either relate to or invest in emotionally. Just like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable was the interaction of two people and the world around them (however this backfired in After Earth as it was only two people). I could still see him writing/director a series or installments; not A:TLA but something original because his creativity isn’t a doubt, it’s the stories he’s writing or director are being smothered in a short period of time to meet the point plot or twist. This can work out in terms of The Visit, but when it’s expected that some kind of twist will happen in the last section of the piece it cheapens the experience for the viewer.
Do you agree or has this director created his last twist?

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