The following is an opinion piece about M. Night Shyamalan, wondering whatever happened to this guy. If you’d rather read about The Vampire Diaries, click here.
Although people who really know me and what I’ve said about this man over recent years might not believe me, I really am happy for M. Night Shyamalan.
Last weekend, his had his first box office No. 1 hit since 2004 with the James McAvoy film Split. And even now, there’s buzz about him maybe even stepping in to direct an episode of Netflix’s Stranger Things.
So for the first time in a long time, things are on the up and up for Shyamalan. But I’m not going to hold my breath on how long that might last.
I’m sure you and I have something pretty big in common: We first fell in love with Shyamalan because of his 1999 film The Sixth Sense. Although Shyamalan didn’t invent the crazy twist scenario, he sure picked the right period to unveil it. I mean, some of the more popular movies of that period was American Beauty with its what I like to call “double pump” twist, and one of my favorite twist films of all time – The Others, with Nicole Kidman and a pre-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston.
Sadly, I didn’t see Sixth Sense fast enough before someone spoiled it for me. So when I finally got to the theater, I knew the ending. But it was fun looking at the breadcrumbs Shyamalan dropped along the way, and trying to see if he betrayed that twist at all, or treated the audience unfairly.
He didn’t. Sixth Sense was wonderful. I mean, he even practically gives away the twist in the beginning, but you’re so caught up in the WTF moment, it’s not registering.
Shyamalan followed that up the next year with another partnership with Bruce Willis, this time adding Samuel L. Jackson to the mix in Unbreakable. This was a movie I truly loved. And believe it or not, I’m not even a comic book geek.
The movie was extraordinary. I was totally fascinated by both Willis’ David Dunn, who seemed impervious to any type of injury or illness, and Jackson’s Elijah Price, who was really the exact opposite. To the point that people called him “Mr. Glass.”
And at least I didn’t think about it until the end, but Mr. Glass is a great villain name, which is exactly what Jackson became in the end.
But it was a superhero film that was not really that. It was brooding, it was thought-provoking. And it was fun.
Sadly, that’s where the train ended for me. I tried to watch Signs, but I felt it was overhyped. I gave The Village a chance because not everyone is going to have constant hit after hit, but I couldn’t even sit still in the theater.
Lady in the Water I simply waited for video, and then wondered how I could get my money back from the video store. And by the time The Happening rolled around in 2008, I was done with M. Night Shyamalan.
But what was it that ruined the Shyamalan experience? It’s hard to put your finger on it, but I really think that Shyamalan got too big too fast, to the point where he was almost treated like J.R.R. Tolkien. You know, the author of the Lord of the Rings books, who was so amazing with the English language, he didn’t even have a real editor for his books. His publisher felt that if he worded something a certain way, that was the best way to do it.
I think the same may have happened to Shyamalan. I mean, remember, movies don’t just pop up suddenly out of nowhere. It’s a long process – even before it goes in front of the cameras. I know even writing my own screenplays that maybe someday I’ll show someone, the current drafts of them are far different from previous drafts. And that’s thanks to outside feedback from people I trust, to try and massage the story, and make it something audiences might enjoy.
For Shyamalan, it seems that studios and others just took a step back. I mean, he was the genius who did Sixth Sense, so why mess with that genius? Signs used the same exact twist device he used in previous movies, but audiences loved that, right? So don’t say anything let him do it again.
Lady in the Water was just a mess, but what do we know? We’re just mere mortals. Shyamalan is a god. Sure, he got it wrong with Signs, but he’ll walk on water again.
They say Hollywood has a short memory, but when it came to Shyamalan, it might as well have been Memento. They forgot the recent stuff, and just kept looking back to the past, at Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. To the point they started giving him bigger franchises to screw up, you know, like The Last Airbender.
And what the hell was After Earth?
It just amazed me that studios would keep dumping money into his projects when they were not only critical failures, but totally lost on audiences as well. Shyamalan had a 13-year drought at the top of the box office not because audiences just didn’t understand him anymore, but because Shyamalan didn’t understand audiences.
Sure, you find something that works – but you don’t use it to death. Twists are not that exciting when you know it’s coming. And that’s coming from me, someone who absolutely loves twists, and tries to incorporate twists in all of his fictional writing.
But there are different kinds of twists, and maybe even the ultimate twist – have everyone looking for a twist that just isn’t there.
The first feature-length screenplay I ever wrote (and no, I haven’t had it produced) uses what I think is one of the most dangerous twist devices. I have a character basically reveal the twist halfway through the story. She gives it all right there.
But here’s the thing … you don’t believe her. She’s already been discredited as a character, so what she says is not believable. However, if people know a twist is coming, and they know that I’m using that device, the story is ruined right there in the middle.
My second screenplay also uses a twist, but it’s much smaller. And totally different from the first one, because you can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again.
I have not seen Split yet, and I’m nervous about doing it. I’ve already wasted good money on bad Shyamalan in the past, and while audiences seem to like McAvoy’s appearance, I just don’t want to be disappointed yet again.
But we’ll have to wait and see his next proposed project, Labor of Love, to find out if Split is the new norm … or just a hiccup in a string of let-downs.
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