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The Best & Worst Of M.Night Shyamalan’s Film-Making Career
With Glass out this week, it’s time to remind ourselves why we adore M. Night Shyamalan’s films, whether it’s for his great works and his many, many spectacular failures. At the very least, he has staged quite a comeback thank to his horror entry The Visit followed by Split. Never give up, right?
We’re going into chronological order here and touch upon his directorial work because it’ll be interesting to see how his past successes and failures can help shape a man and his talent. Heads up: we might delve into spoiler territory so we’ll put this on here in case:
Shyamalan’s first debut film in 1992 where he wrote, directed, and produced it. It’s about a man who discovers his roots and navigates a clashing of cultures when he comes home to India after being in the US for so long.
The allusions to Hinduism and keeping people close to you despite their shortcomings and the hero’s own ego is the spiritual and emotional crux of the film, which Shyamalan then reused in his future films albeit with a twist or two.
A family-friendly film from M. Night Shyamalan that doesn’t traumatize people? Who knew, right? His second film is about a grieving ten year-old who befriends a nun and discovers that life can still be cherished beyond a tragedy.
Shyamalan’s skill in finding depth in a standard setting all stemmed from these two films before his big one.
Perhaps the only reason he’s renowned in this day and age, this horror film deals with a kid who can see ghosts. This is where the trademark Shyamalan “greater plan” dialogue, the use of specific colours for key scenes, the spiritual aspects, and his back-and-forth panning techniques all come to fruition.
Sure, the twist was great and all, but it’s the build-up, the developing relationship between Hailey Joel Osment’s Cole and Bruce Willis’ Malcolm as said kid and psychiatrist respectively, and the substance within a melancholy life that makes this film worth a few more viewings.
The movie that brought out the myth of the superhero and heroes in general long before they were glorified and became giant money-making genres for Marvel Films and Warner Bros., Unbreakable is a slow-building drama that evolves into a comic book movie with a twist ending.
And all of it is done in a low-key, serious, subtle, and measured manner. It takes its time exploring the psyche and going-ons of Bruce Willis’ David Dunn (alliterations for names, a comic book trope), wrestling with his perceived destiny and his place in the world and in the universe.
When you think about the blockbuster hit film Signs, you think mysterious faith-searching symbolic film featuring a then-in-his-prime Mel Gibson and still-hot-property Joaquin Phoenix. And aliens being real.
We get why this film gets its praise; because it’s about a former priest trying to find his faith after his wife was killed in a car crash. But the second half of the film is quite a huge letdown.
We’ll sum it up: The antagonists in this show are weak to wood and water. That’s pretty common on earth, so shouldn’t they be avoiding our dirtball at all cost? Or are these aliens getting a danger fix for that adrenaline rush especially when harassing former preachers and their sons & daughters living in the cornfield? In any case, Signs is the beginning of the director’s descent into movie-making madness.
You would think Shyamalan would learn from his mistakes in Signs. Wrong; he still follows his tropes and made his film built around a twist many can see coming a mile away.
While the show’s atmosphere and mood were fine at the start since we’re suppose to believe that the show takes place in the 19th century, the cracks started to show when it came to the roadside scene. His overreliance on his past film-making techniques was getting tiresome.
The next Shyamalan film that is more comedic than horrific. We’ve reached the bottom of the barrel in terms of Shyamalan’s worst hits: it’s a fairy tale filled with nonsensical names, unintentionally hilarious outcomes and lore-building, and Shyamalan tropes up the wazoo.
Even the director himself plays an author who ends up being a world-changing saviour as prophesized by the plot point water nymph Story (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). It’s a maze of a story with no real payoff, it’s presented in an idiotic manner, and it made the criminal mistake of misusing Paul Giamatti who at that point in time should have fired his agent.
This is where Shyamalan’s powers of sucking the life out of charismatic actors started. We all know Mark Wahlberg as a funny guy who can do action films, but here he plays a pretty bland science teacher who doesn’t talk and react like a regular human being alongside an equally-dull Zooey Deschanel as his wife.
The couple is stuck in an apocalyptic disaster scenario that somehow comes across as sedative than it is terrifying.
One of the many nadirs in the man’s career, he chose to adapt the beloved animated series into….whatever the hell this was supposed to be. What was supposed to be an epic live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender Book One ended up becoming an exposition-filled fart in the wind.
With boring dialogue, no developed characters, tepid battle scenes, and little to no bending, the only redeeming point about this trash of a film is that it makes you appreciate the Avatar series more.
M.Night Shyamalan proves that you can indeed suck the talent and machismo out of the charismatic Will Smith and his son Jaden. This sci-fi story about a planet filled with evolving animals and the duo who crash landed and try to survive the ordeal is a jumbled mess that mostly bores its audience.
And really, how can you take the names of the characters seriously? Cypher Raige? That’s something out of an 80s sci-fi cartoon that goes alongside names like Frenzy McBadman, Dart Felth, and Lavitz Slamberge.
Shit happens. That’s all I have to say about the show’s perfect balance of horror and comedy and how it sucker-punches you with its ending. It’s the perfect saying for a film directed with less restraint than usual that deals with a pair of siblings who visit their grandparents.
Call it for what it is: a mess. But it’s an entertaining mess that delivers the right amount of laughs and thrills. At least, intentionally.
A gripping psychological drama that opened up a huge revelation at the end of the film. Since it’s about a man with 23 different personalities, everything has to ride on the main character. Thankfully, Shyamalan lost his talent-sucking powers in his Lady In The Water days.
He turned James McAvoy into a nonstop acting machine, changing his pitches, mannerisms, and energy as he switches from personality to personality while we’re in suspense over the kidnapped victims he’s involved with and the mystery surrounding his character.
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