The Films of M. Night Shyamalan

There is perhaps no filmmaker today that generates as much debate as M. Night Shyamalan. Scorsese? He could release an Andy Warhol style film of a nun pooping and it would get an Oscar nomination. Michael Bay? Even he thinks he sucks. Night (he told me I could call him Night) is another story though. Opinions on his films range from the casual movie goer's vapid "I liked the Sixth Sense!" to the die hard fans (me) who will swear on their mother's soul that The Village is a work of pure genius. With this year's release of The Happening, and the furor that has followed, its time to take a look at his body of work. For purposes of this post, we will ignore his first two films that 5 people saw and take his career from The Sixth Sense on. In this period, he has made four brilliant films and two of varying degrees of awfulness. We will start with the good:

The Sixth Sense (1999) - As you know, The Sixth Sense is the one that brought the Indian Hitchcock to the national stage. It also brought in sixth Oscar nominations. The young and irritatingly unstable Haley Joel Osment sees dead people and renowned Philadelphia psychologist Bruce Willis sees an opportunity to make up for a horrific mis diagnosis in his past. If you haven't seen it by now, you never will, so I'll go ahead and tell you it turns out Bruce Willis is dead. Knowing that going in allows you to see the huge plot holes. No one cares about that though. Its a nice creepy flick with a surprisingly emotionally powerful ending. Random casting note: The OC's Mischa Barton plays the puking girl in the tent.

Signs (2002) - Signs is my personal favorite Night film thanks in large part to my fear of aliens and appreciation of Mel Gibson's unique brand of insanity. Faithless former priest Mel finds crop circles in his suburban Philly farm and doesn't believe aliens are to blame until its too late. I'll grant you the aliens are much more terrifying before you see him clearly (the shadowy figure on top of the barn still sends a chill up my spine), but you still have to appreciate this well made alien invasion movie if you are a fan of this genre. Signs made an impression on critics as well. Roger Ebert said, "M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is the work of a born filmmaker, able to summon apprehension out of thin air. When it is over, we think not how little has been decided, but how much has been experienced." Random casting note: Little Miss Sunshine herself plays Mel's daughter.

The Village (2004) - The Village is where we first see Night backlash begin to develop. Many did not see the genius in the twist involving a group of settlers who have fled "the towns" in search of a crime free life. It fits perfectly and tells you a great deal about these character's tortured psyche, but I guess thats just a little too much to digest for the average American movie goer. Yes, I basically just insulted everyone who didn't like this one. No random casting note this time, but Adrien Brody's portrayal of a retarded guy is something to behold.

Lady in the Water (2006) - With the backlash generated by The Village still fresh in everyone's mind, Lady in the Water was more or less dismissed out of hand. I myself will confess to not liking it very much the first time I saw it. I saw it on an airplane in the middle of the night next to a group of unruly Portuguese toddlers though, so that could ruin anything. After deciding to do this retrospective, I gave it another shot. Its a pleasant little story well made and superbly acted. Paul Giamatti plays an apartment manager trying to solve the mystery of the disgusting slop that winds up in the pool filter every morning. What unfolds is a fun and ultimately satisfying yarn about the lady in the water, Story, and her attempt to return to her own world with the help of the strange residents of Giamatti's apartment building. Again, no odd casting note, but there is this interesting tidbit: Story makes prophecies and among those she makes involves a great leader emerging from the Midwest to usher in an era of hope and change. Hmmm, who could that be?

...now we move on to the not so good:

The Happening (2008) - I really wanted to like The Happening. TMS bartender Chaim Witz saw an early screening and panned it, and nothing would have pleased me more than to tell him he was wrong. Unfortunately I couldn't. Criticism seemed to focus on the fact the plants are attacking. I didn't understand why that was so absurd. You can only fuck with living organisms so long before they snap. Why are plants so different? The problem here isn't with the idea, its with the execution. Night tries to go for a campy 1950's feel to it, but misses badly. We're left with an hour and a half of bad jokes, Mark Wahlberg looking confused, and people running from wind. The one redeeming quality of The Happening are the deaths. The deaths here are imaginative and grizzly. Rent it at some point if only to see the guy lay down in front of a giant lawnmower...

Unbreakable (2000) - I can't make any excuses for Unbreakable. This is just a mess from beginning to end. Bruce Willis is the only survivor of a terrible train accident and that catches the eye of the oft-injured Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson, Mr. Glass, thinks he has found the yin to his yang, a man who can't be hurt. For the next hour or so, we see Bruce try to test this theory about as boringly as he could before a big show down that doesn't really live up to all the hype about him. Those who don't like Night often accuse him of trying to copy The Sixth Sense every time out. Unbreakable is the one time I will concede they are correct. This is clearly an attempt to capitalize on the success of the earlier film and doesn't add anything new to the world other than some comic book gobbledygook. The twist is forced and totally unbelievable (even in a movie about a man who can't be injured) and gets wrapped up thanks to fade-to-black post-scripts before you can even digest it.


"You didn't like The Village? Fuck you."

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