In Defense of M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan continues to work and get major film deals despite the public and critical backlash that overcame his latest cinematic efforts. Recently he has begun working on a new movie called “A.E.,” starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden. With his new agents in WME, it looks like Shyamalan will continue to weather the criticism as he looks to return to the form that allowed him to achieve the comfort level at which he currently resides.

“The Sixth Sense”

After Shyamalan earned critical acclaim for his debut film, “Praying with Anger,” and its follow up, “Wide Awake,” he broke into Hollywood with the horror movie “The Sixth Sense.” The movie stars Bruce Willis as Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist gunned down by a former patient. When he recovers, he meets a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who claims to see dead people everywhere.

The movie ends with a shocking twist finale. Shyamalan’s ability to draw tension and fear from the audience caused some people to tab him the next Steven Spielberg.

That might be where the blocks started to fall. While some label Shyamalan arrogant, it might also be backlash for his quick ascension. “The Sixth Sense” earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture — an honor Shyamalan has never reached again.

“Unbreakable” and “Signs”

The next two Shyamalan films to hit theaters also received critical acclaim. In “Unbreakable,” Shyamalan re-teamed with Bruce Willis, who plays the sole survivor of a train crash. He soon learns he is invulnerable, a Superman-style character. Samuel Jackson’s Mr. Glass is a man who suffers injuries at the drop of a hat, the polar opposite of Willis’ character. The movie remains set in the superhero world but is more a character drama than an action movie.

With “Signs,” Shyamalan returned to the horror world and introduced an alien invasion. Like the best alien movies, he remains transfixed on one family as they fight to survive. The movie is a master class of terror but falters due to a silly ending where the aliens’ weakness is discovered.

Despite this finale, the movie was a success. However, its reputation has only weakened as critics look back on the career of the director.

The Fall of M. Night Shyamalan

The biggest disadvantage of “The Village” was that people expected a twist ending and hated it. The movie was a solid period piece with great acting and a wonderful setup, but the twist sent most people home angry. Shyamalan set it up but audiences tired of his gimmick.

“Lady in the Water” was his venture into fantasy. Once again the movie had great performances but was a quirky effort that failed to interest anyone outside Shyamalan’s core fan base.

“The Happening,” according to Shyamalan himself, was a B-grade horror movie, paying homage to those from the ’50s post-war era. Audiences turned their noses up and Shyamalan found himself buried. Even the big budget “The Last Airbender,” based on the television show, could not save him.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Shyamalan continues to find trust, the latest being from Will Smith. He also proved in 2010, while producing “Devil,” that he still knows what makes a movie scary. With his track record, Shyamalan proved he can be a great director, evidenced by his first three movies, as well as by moments in the next four. It will be hard for audiences to give him a chance in this information-ready world, but if anyone can beat the odds, few have the talent of Shyamalan as a film director.

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