The up and down career of M. Night Shyamalan

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Sam Dunham

BY SAM DUNHAM (’18)

Throughout the history of Hollywood, there have been few directors so unpredictable and erratic as the man himself, M. Night Shyamalan. In the near twenty years since he first broke into the cinema scene, M. Night has wowed us with his storytelling, shocked us with his twists, made us groan with disappointment and then gasp with excitement. The only thing that is certain when it comes to Shyamalan is in his movies, nothing is ever certain.  

While the famous director’s career technically began in 1992 with “Praying with Anger”, where it really kicked off was seven years later with the hit thriller “The Sixth Sense”. After two mediocre dramas (“Praying with Anger” and “Wide Awake”), this 1999 film was a smash hit and revolutionary in regards to film making. With perhaps the greatest twist ending in movie history, “The Sixth Sense” was a perfect way to introduce himself to the world of mainstream cinema.

Shortly thereafter, his fame escalated after directing “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Signs” (2002), two more films that received both fan and critical praise. At this point, Shyamalan was even dubbed “the next Spielberg” due to his innovative stories and style.

However, this fame clearly began to go to his head. After releasing “The Village”, which received mixed reviews by critics but is generally perceived as a good film, the quality of his movies began to decline. With his first “bad” film, “Lady in the Water”, Shyamalan overreached a bit and while trying to be thoughtful and intellectual, actually came off as pretentious and confusing. His next two films, “The Happening” and “The Last Airbender”, were absolute disasters. The once-beloved director had now fallen into a severely cold streak of bad movies. The Happening was an incoherent mess with a ridiculous plot and an even more ridiculous Mark Wahlberg performance. “The Last Airbender” in 2010 is still to this day seen as one of the absolute worst movies of all time, with horrible acting, nonsensical writing, and deplorable Hollywood whitewashing.

But this was not the end of bad times for M. Night. After a 3 year gap between movies, Shyamalan created one more terrible film in 2013. “After Earth” starring Will and Jaden Smith, while perhaps not quite as offensive as “The Last Airbender”, was yet another movie that was destroyed by critics and moviegoers alike. For a time, many thought that this would be the end of the talented director. After five years of disappointing movies, it seemed like Shyamalan, like many directors before him, would fade into obscurity and only be remembered for his cinematic failures.

Hollywood, however, had different plans for M. Night. Shortly following the unfortunate “After Earth”, he announced the production of a low-budget horror film called “The Visit”. Leaving many optimistic as he appeared to be returning to his roots of film making, Shyamalan did not disappoint. This small found footage movie, while not necessarily a box office smash hit, was a great turnaround from his previous movie. Critics gave mostly positive reviews and it seemed like M. Night had finally redeemed himself a bit for his past movies’ sins. Although his next movie was the one where he finally announced his return to stardom. “Split” (2017) starring James McAvoy was a film that, while certainly not perfect, was innovative and very suspenseful, two staples of the old Shyamalan. It goes without saying that his twist at the end was unexpected and amazing as well.

Night still has a ways to go to totally redeem himself for his streak of disappointing bombs. However, his career seems to be slowly trending in the right direction. There’s no telling what he will do or make next. The only thing for sure is that he will never fail to surprise us.