M. Night Shyamalan – A Career Retrospective
Let’s just get this out of the way first: we don’t dislike M. Night Shyamalan. His films are actually well directed, occasionally well written, sporadically interesting and, once in a blue moon, positively reviewed. There’s a reason he gets work, and that’s because his films usually turn a healthy profit. However, with the news that After Earth has received neither critical lauding nor large monetary gains, this might all be changing for poor M. Night Shyamalan. We never would have imagined this way back in 1999 after we saw The Sixth Sense for the first time – it seemed like the start of such a glittering filmography. Maybe that’s the biggest surprise ending of all in M. Night’s career. WHAT A TWIST.
Wide Awake (1998)
40% on Rotten Tomatoes
Wide Awake, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (we double-checked), has one of the most phlegmatic synopses we have ever stumbled across on IMDb. Observe:
“A fifth grader goes on a search for God after his grandfather dies. Along the way he gets into tons of trouble at Waldron Academy an all boys school. Also he is aided on his search by a sports loving nun.”
Yes, the nun is Rosie O’Donnell. Doesn’t that just sound vomit-inducing? The posters for Wide Awake are even better. “ROSIE O’DONNELL IS HILARIOUS”, announces one critic, presumably a sentence which was muffled by the gun shoved down their throat.
No we haven’t seen it, no we don’t want to see it, yes our ridicule is based solely on superficial details about a film we’ll never see, but either way this is a very strange start to M. Night’s career.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
85% on Rotten Tomatoes
Now here’s a proper film! Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis stole the show in 1999 when this box-office busting paranormal mystery hit the screens. Coming as a complete surprise, The Sixth Sense actually took the second highest box-office returns of 1999, right behind Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, which as we all know has stood the test of time.
The Sixth Sense is well-written, well-shot and well-performed, so big kudos goes to M. Night Shyamalan. The downside is that the film is not nearly as enjoyable to watch once you know the twist. Fight Club, which came out only 2 months after The Sixth Sense, and has a fairly integral twist, manages hold up on repeated viewings. The Sixth Sense is just a little bland when you know already who the dead guy is.
Stuart Little (1999)
66% on Rotten Tomatoes
People are often surprised to hear that M. Night Shyamalan wrote the screenplay for not-completely-dreadful Stuart Little. The story of when Gregory House M.D. adopted a talking mouse was a little insipid for many, but as M. Night children’s films go, it’s not the worst. That dubious distinction goes to a far more recent and notorious entry…
It’s interesting to note the timing of Stuart Little, just 5 months after The Sixth Sense made it big. Perhaps M. Night was hedging his bets at this point in his career. Due to The Sixth Sense‘s success, he may have felt he found his niche – mystical bullshit with a surprise ending. If it had been less successful, M. Night would have spent more time writing screenplays in other genres, and may have learnt not to get typecast so soon.
68% on Rotten Tomatoes
The follow-up to The Sixth Sense saw M. Night Shyamalan once again team up with Bruce Willis, and once again he employed the big twist. The difference is that, whereas The Sixth Sense‘s twist was enjoyable, if a little rote, Unbreakable completely derailed itself by the end. It was just silly. Bruce Willis clearly does not want to be in this film, floating from one scene to the next like an uninteresting ghost (hey, maybe it IS related to The Sixth Sense after all!?)
Unbreakable sees the start of what artists refer to as M. Night Shymalan’s “Bullshit Phase”, where his attempts to make his writing and directing more esoteric results in the films being muddled and unenjoyable. Unbreakable is not a terrible film, it just suffers from M. Night trying to recreate the success of The Sixth Sense, and failing. This will become a recurring theme.
74% on Rotten Tomatoes
There’s a lot of good in this movie. Mel Gibson performs well, the idea of pulling away from big budget alien invasions is refreshing, it’s shot well, it’s even tense at times. Ok, that’s the good stuff out of the way, it’s ranting time.
This film is so stupid.
These aliens are intelligent enough to build interstellar spaceships capable of travelling 5 trillion kilometers, at the very least, without making the whole enterprise seem a little pointless, only to piss about with a scared human family and flatten their corn? These aliens are capable of jumping onto roofs, yet can’t kick down a door? These aliens are several thousands of years ahead of us in the advancement of technology, but forget to check if the planet they’ve just landed on has any water on it, the one thing, THE ONE THING, that can melt them like the Wicked Witch of the West?
M. Night, were you high when you wrote this?
The Village (2004)
43% on Rotten Tomatoes
At the risk of sounding redundant, THIS FILM IS SO STUPID.
In a sign that the usual template of “meandering mystery made completely pointless by a stupid twist” was beginning to get old with critics, The Village was the first M. Night Shyamalan film to hit rotten since Wide Awake. The most egregious scene is during the big reveal at the end of the film, where the characters just stand around, repeating the twist OVER AND OVER AGAIN, just to make sure you fully understood it. Even the actors are fed up by this point, Bryce Dallas Howard simply stands there, blank-faced and staring into the distance… although come to think of it this may have been because she was blind.
Don’t listen to us though, have a look at what the incomparable Roger Ebert had to say on The Village.
Lady In The Water (2006)
24% on Rotten Tomatoes
Poor Bryce Dallas Howard just can’t catch a break. Lady In The Water continued M. Night’s downward trend by plunging his talents directly into a pool of fetid sewage water. Paul Giamatti, bless his heart, is trying his best, but with mermaids (they’re called “nerfs” in the film, an oddly fitting title) and fairytales and M. Night Shyamalan having the conceit to star in the film as the character Vick Ran (a “visionary writer”), he had no chance of saving this thing.
The Happening (2008)
17% on Rotten Tomatoes
The Happening is one of the weirdest films ever made. It’s really, really, really bad. So bad, in fact, that it’s occasionally funny, but mostly it’s boring, and stupid, and lifeless. People all around the world are killing themselves spontaneously and without explanation. Enter Mark Wahlberg, who appears to be doing an insensitive impression of someone with learning difficulties, and his wife, Zooey Deschanel, who is actively trying to pop her eyeballs straight out of her head. Also, she’s having an affair with, of all people, M. Night Shyamalan. Fancy that.
M. Night Shyamalan’s intention in The Happening was to recreate the ambiance of a hammy horror-thriller from the 50s, but he missed the mark completely. Aside from the acting (BAD) and the writing (BAD) and the direction (BAD BAD BAD), the plot twist is so profoundly idiotic, so insulting to anyone who watches it, that it boggles the mind that the studio allowed M. Night to get away with making this.
The only bright side was that we got this remix out of it:
52% on Rotten Tomatoes
Devil was neither written nor directed by M. Night Shyamalan, but he does have story and producer credits, and the marketing for Devil proudly proclaimed the film to be “FROM THE MIND OF M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN”. Why you would want to boast this after The Village, Lady In The Water and The Happening is anyone’s guess, but the makers of Devil went one step further, and advertised the film as part of “The Night Chronicles” – a supposed collection of half-arsed, poorly conceptualised films based on a rubbish twist.
Devil features 5 dicks stuck in an elevator, and -SHOCK- one of them is Satan. Why is the devil doing this? Why has he gone through all the effort of getting these random people in a lift, then preventing incompetent firemen from breaking open the lift doors, then messing around with the CCTV footage so that the guards get all freaked out? Why? Just… why?
52% is way too high for a film about people you don’t care about screaming at each other and a couple of cheap jump scares.
The Last Airbender (2010)
6% on Rotten Tomatoes
Here it is: the worst-reviewed film by M. Night Shyamalan. Marking a departure for the at-this-point pigeonholed director, The Last Airbender is an adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender. It must have been deeply galling for the filmmakers having to change the film title from Avatar, thanks to James Cameron, to The Last Airbender, which has obvious mockable connotations.
We’ll give The Last Airbender this: it looks great. The colour palette is gorgeous, and the effects when someone ‘bends’ air, earth, water or fire are just lovely. The problems start with the casting. The Avatar himself, Noah Ringer, was not a trained actor, simply a little martial artist who the casting director thought looked a bit like the cartoon character. And it shows. He’s just sodding awful. It doesn’t just stop there, however. Nearly every single person in the cast are eye-gougingly bad, delivering lines and stumbling about like they’ve just taken a hit of acid.
Many people accused The Last Airbender of being overtly racist in its casting, opting to ignore the distinctly Asian look of the characters in the cartoon and opting instead for white Californian brats for all the “good” guys. M. Night Shyamalan’s rebuttal to this was that there were many ethnic people in the film, but that all the leads just so happened to be white by accident. Weird how that works.
After Earth (2013)
Currently at 12% on Rotten Tomatoes
The latest entry in M. Night Shyamalan’s cinematographic works, After Earth is not doing so well in the box office. Taking a rather worrying $20 million over its opening weekend in the US, it seems that even the star power of Will Smith was not enough to drag people to the cinemas to see this. Perhaps it was the whiny, snotty, undeservedly-famous Jaden Smith that soured people to the film. Whatever the reason, it marks yet-another low point for M. Night Shyamalan. At this point in his career, his last ‘Fresh’ film (meaning 60% or more of critics gave the film a positive review) was 11 years ago with Signs. Poor bastard.
We haven’t reviewed After Earth yet, but come back next week and our shiny new review should be waiting for you. Our prediction is that we’ll hate it, but we’ll keep an open mind.
M. Night Shyamalan’s greatest fault lies in his writing. His directing is solid – he knows how to make a film look and sound good, and is evidently competent enough to coax great performances out of his actors. The problem is that he peaked too soon – The Sixth Sense was such a sensation both critically and financially that studios were prepared to gamble big on his projects. This is why we repeatedly saw him write and direct one piece of garbage after another – he was backed no matter the quality, or lack thereof, of his screenplays.
This good will has all but come to an end, in all likelihood. M. Night Shyamalan’s twists are such a tired and meaningless affair that audiences see it as something of a joke. Although After Earth seemed as though M. Night Shyamalan was trying to distance himself from the paint-by-numbers thriller-mysteries of the last 14 years of his career (Will Smith gets story credit for this one, guys), apparently it hasn’t paid off. The greatest insult we’ve seen to M. Night Shyamalan is the website M. Night School, dedicated to raising enough money to send M. Night back to film school so he can learn how to write a goddamn movie. Perhaps it’s time to call it a night, eh Shyamalan?