#295. M. Night Shyamalan

Being a recognizable name in Hollywood is sometimes a double-edged sword. If an actor’s name is recognizable, most people will usually know what type of movie the actor appears in and will either attend or avoid accordingly. The challenge with this is sometimes actors will branch out into different genres, thus making the name recognition a little unreliable. Directors, however, are usually pretty consistent with their genres and styles. While this can help give audiences an indication as to whether or not they’d want to see a movie or not, sometimes a running track record for a director can help them gain ticket sales, especially after a particularly well-received film. Unfortunately, what if a director peaked after their second or third film? This week’s two films will examine the early, successful films of M. Night Shyamalan.

The Sixth SenseThe Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

Even though Shyamalan directed two films before The Sixth Sense (1999), neither Praying with Anger (1992) or Wide Awake (1998) gave him the recognition The Sixth Sense did. Consequently, most consider The Sixth Sense to be his “first” film insomuch as it was his breakthrough into Hollywood. While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for six. M. Night Shyamalan could have walked away with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, along with his film winning Best Picture, if it were not for American Beauty (1999). Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense has remained a key part of American popular culture, ranking at #89 of the American Film Institute’s latest list of the top 100 films. It is clear from this film; many people had high hopes for the future directorial efforts of M. Night Shyamalan.

Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) finds himself hesitant to continue his job as a child psychologist after a former patient of his claimed Malcom failed him and shot the doctor as a result. However, when Dr. Crowe comes across Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and recognizes many traits of his former patient, he decides it’s time to try again. While the former patient suffered from hallucinations, Cole admits to seeing dead people, even if said dead people don’t realize they’re dead. Through Malcom’s encouragement, Cole helps a young girl obtain closure for her wrongful death. Cole even gains enough confidence to return to school, as well as admit to his mother that his gift has allowed him to communicate with his dead grandmother. Feeling his work with Cole is now complete, Malcom returns home to his wife only to discover that she has moved on from him; the twist comes in revealing why.

Unbreakable
Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours

Because of the strong twist ending in The Sixth Sense, people were not surprised when his next film, Unbreakable (2000), had a twist ending as well. In fact, even the film after that, Signs (2002), had a twist for an ending. Some would consider Signs to be his last successful film, as the expectation of a twist ending would haunt his next many films. Critical reception of Shyamalan’s films sharply dropped over the next decade, with such flops as The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013) earning him more Golden Raspberries than Oscar statues. Despite his name being tied to disappointment after disappointment, he eventually found the core of his success again with The Visit (2015) and this year’s Split (2017). Perhaps now we can expect great films from M. Night Shyamalan once again.

In a stroke of what could only be unfortunate luck, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) finds himself the sole survivor of a train wreck that killed every other passenger on board, but left him without a scratch. Through this tragic event, he is sought out by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a collector of rare comic books who was intrigued by David’s survival. Elijah posits the theory that, since he has a rare disease which makes his bones fragile, someone out there must possess the opposite physical flaw. David initially scoffs at Elijah’s hypothesis that he is an indestructible superhero, but once he begins to test this theory, he finds he’s stronger than he ever imagined. Suddenly, incidents from David’s past have deeper meaning. Elijah encourages David to explore some of his superpowers, which eventually leads the hero to learn of the sinister force behind some of the tragic events in his life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Shyamalan sensations

Bacon #: 2 (Split (directed) / James McAvoy -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)

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