Readers Write In #17: The Split Director

Posted on May 13, 2017

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M. Night Shyamalan’s first film was neither Wide Awake or The Sixth Sense. It was an indie drama known as Praying with Anger. Of course the film is not popular or even known that it existed unlike how the bad films by him are unpopularly remembered. Wikipedia describes the film as an exploration of a young Indian American’s return to India. That doesn’t sound very Shyamalan (esque or ish).

The film is more or less a forgettable drama. Yet when you see it after having watched his later films, it is rather good. Following this and Wide Awake comes The Sixth Sense.

That film is more or less an interesting drama about a child discovering his true inner fears and conquering them. That is until the last minute. In what must be a textbook example of sleight of hand, he pulls a twist that jolts and makes a lot of sense.

And there followed Unbreakable and Signs, his last few best films. Both were slow building and maintained the creepiness (Signs lost all that with the reveal of aliens and Unbreakable’s end can bring it notches down if exposed to outside logic yet it remains villainous ). Unbreakable is more or less the training montage we see often see in movies streched to show how attaining powers are not the only thing for a superhero. Signs was limiting an alien invasion to a single family and showing how they go through after facing tragedies in their past.

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And till then Shyamalan made some brilliant movies. Then came ‘The Village’. The Village progressed in a rather not bad but still nothing special mode for me. The creatures outside all seemed interesting. Then came THE SHYAMALAN TWIST (TM). The twist felt like the film was trying to make itself too smart and also Shyamalan resorting to the sleight of hand he tried in The Sixth Sense.

From there Shyamalan’s career slogged, each film further reduced the standards that was once thought of the next Spielberg. Following After Earth, there was probably no reason for me to see his movies apart from his distinct visual style ( Long drawn out shots and brilliant staging and framing) and James Newton Howard’s score.

The case was that the twist he tries to bring are against the rules of the world he sets. Then later the twists were actually shaky foundation of what could have been a fantastical world. Still he was a brilliant director. He had brought that personal touch (Like showing a family in stasis or even setting his films in Philadelphia). The real problem lied in the material. But everyone wanted to be part of the goose chase that was defaming him.

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By this time, a metamorphosis began. Television happened. Or to be more specific, Wayward Pines happened with M. Night Shyamalan the executive producer. The show became more or less a success and Shyamalan was more or less changing. Then this phase continued with The Visit.

The Visit was a found footage horror film produced and directed by Shyamalan. The film received a warm reception especially comparing the more recent works.Then well .. . Split happened.

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It was really the film the Shyamalan fan still in me truly loved. Till then his films were very much interesting yet not good. Yet nowhere terrible as the critics found.

In this film, he was telling a more or less straight forward story. A kidnapping. A beast similar to the werewolf. In this film, Shyamalan like in many of his films was toying with generic broadstrokes and showing his touch of humanity. It was a brilliant reminder of a director regaining his form. Then again THE SHYAMALAN TWIST came.

This time I don’t think this is a twist however it is a twist. It was more or less in the lines of Kong : Skull Island’s post credit scene. An extended universe. What a superb set up it was and how it adds to the film.

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That is where I found out how M Night Shyamalan is still in the peak. How he could become the last Spielberg? He is still the few directors who make it aware to the audiences that its his work.

And that’s where I found out that he truly works best when is trying to tell a staright generic tale. There were other films being made where the characters see dead people (Matt Damon’s Hereafter for example) and characters discover their powers (any origins story). However very few people can make such generic movies and yet entertain you.

Shyamalan’s beginning phase and the current phase more or less show the proof of this. These films show him reaching for connect to the audience or at least to entertain the audience. These two phases are proof that M. Night Shyamalan is not just a one trick pony. At least not as a director.

This post is written by Shyam Rahul.

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