It still freaks me out. Little Haley Joel Osment stands in the bathroom as the thermometer drops all of a sudden; then a figure in a pink bathrobe, almost floating, walks in front of the camera for a moment and the music spits a “thunk!” My brother watches it over and over; gives him a rise every time.
The first time I watched M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, not only was it hard for me to fall asleep that night, but I knew I had watched a tremendous movie; even the second time, and the third. It was a whole new way to handle the supernatural: the macabre precision timing, ingenious writing, and subtle gruesomeness of the visual effects were something akin to the best of Hitchcock, and yet as fresh as a crisp October day.
I enjoyed Unbreakable, a movie, Shyamalan says, that is entirely the Act One of a superhero story: the coming to know, the setup. It hits you slowly but powerfully, climaxing in a simple yet somewhat terrifying heroic act combining the newfound strengths with masterful deft.
Signs was considered by many even better: less dark, more dramatic. Mel Gibson’s passionate magnetic acting lent a hand, along with then-new, extremely talented Joachim Phoenix. The “it’s what you don’t see” mentality melted a bit with the need to show the “aliens,” but all in all, the powerful plot connections that drove the story won hearts.
The Village was the beginning of the end for me. While several moments, especially Joachim Phoenix’s nick-of-time appearance to save the blind girl of his affections, grabbed my admiration, as a whole it was something we had seen before from M. Night: mystery, heroism, revelation, happy ending – Shyamalan style. While his writing continued to include the ingenious portrayal of the tiny nuances of life that everyone notices but upon which few care to comment which connect us so powerfully to his work; his dialogue got more chalky, stiff, and without great effort to imitate real life more than theatrical monologue.
I watched Lady in the Water just to see it for myself. Almost needless to say, I confirmed the opinions of my siblings and friends that it “sucked.” The idea of angelic creatures as mermaids was interesting, but that was about it. We all knew it would work out just fine after the overly CG world calmed down after 120 minutes spent getting a sore butt.
I didn’t go see The Last Airbender. Even my more shallow acquaintances confirmed that it also “sucked.” I reinserted my ten bucks back into my pocket.
His box office take has also been a slow drop since Sixth Sense. Totaling nearly a billion in all, Sense hit the top with nearly $300 million, great for any film; Unbreakable dropped to $95; Signs bounced him back to $227, as the various pronunciations of “Shayamalan” became household debate. The Village dropped him to $114 million; Lady [in the Shower] to $42; the mildly poignant love story between Mark Walberg and Zooey Deschanel, Happening, bumped to $64; and Airbender flew just above The Village at $131.
His Rotten Tomatoes reviews were not so flattering. Not counting a slight early bump up from Unbreak to Signs, his films have “black-diamond ski-slope” plummeted from the high 80’s for Sixth S. to Airbender scraping for a ten. In fact, Slashfilm.com reports that if Shyamalan continues at this rate, by 2012 or 13, he will be the first to direct a film that gets negative points on a Rotten Tomatoes scale.
“Of course,” says the site’s Peter Sciretta, “we all know the end of the world could save us from the impending worst movie ever made.”
I even read a friend of a friend’s friend on Facebook say, “I was going to see that new movie The Devil, but when I heard it was an M. Night Shyamalan, I said ‘Forget it.’”
So what the hell happened? How did a rising star writer/director – who got robbed at the Oscars by Cider House Rules, the pro-abortion novel adaptation in a bullshit political sweep when Sense should’ve cleaned house; who got plastered all over People and Time as the movie messiah; who had film companies and actors drooling to make a film with him – how did he nosedive in his first decade on the very top?
Here are a few guesses. I expect it to be something of a combination of these.
1) First kid. Many animals’ first offspring is the best you’re goanna get. He had something to say; did he just burnout after one script?
2) His acting. No joke. He should have stuck to the Hitchcock cameo style: split second pop “did you see him, daddy?” shots. Not the “Shyamalan going for an Academy Award” roles. You were decent in Sense. We don’t want to see your face or hear your voice no more.
3) The classic money/fame/power syndrome. Or to put it in a word – ego! (The home movies on your DVDs; the extended cameos again.) Hey it happens to the best: Spielberg in his Kubrick tribute A.I.; Lucas in the SW prequels; Judd Apatow, the successful new comedy director, tanks in Funny People; M. Night: Lady [on the Toilet]. The syndrome’s symptoms consist in the writer/director achieving some great success or acclaim, navel gazing for at least three hours a day, then repeating to himself, sometimes in the presence of others, “Everything I write, think, and do is great!” Wrong! Snap out of it quick.
4) The Good Night Cliché. This one you kinda’ brought upon yourself man. Now we know that if we dare to risk serious butt numbness and enter an M. Night movie theater, after a lot of weird and freaky shit, a dramatic mix of all the elements of the story thus far will magically collide with a lot of overused CG to bring about a nice ending. So that kinda’ has to change. The surprise is the best part about the Shyamalan movie formula, but be like your hero Spielberg, who is great not because he mastered just one form of film, but because he did it all. You seemed to have tried the change-up pitch with Airbender. Try harder. You might just get it.
The only solution to the present dark Night is that you go back to the drawing board where you started from, and give us something great again. Because you can. And we’ll all sure pay to see it when you do.