"Perhaps Shyamalan wanted to be a 21st-century George A Romero. Instead I'm afraid he is turning into Ed Wood Jr."
M. Night Shyamalan (born Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan in Pondicherry, India on August 6, 1970) was raised in Philadelphia, where he has also set and filmed most of his movies. M. Night Shyamalan's first two feature films were Praying with Anger
and Wide Awake
, released in 1992 and 1998 respectively, both of which had heavy religious themes and were modestly received but not exceptionally successful.
He ended up writing a screenplay inspired by an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?
, a Nickelodeon
show. Shopping this script around, it became famous for a bidding war until Disney
representative David Vogel bought it for a seven-figure sum without consulting his executives. This movie became 1999's surprise mega-hit The Sixth Sense
, which featured a well-planned Twist Ending
that was so widely discussed that everyone knows it now
Oh, and speaking of 1999: Shyamalan also collaborated on the screenplay for Stuart Little
and heavily rewrote She's All That
. (It just took him until 2013 to admit to the latter.)
His fourth film, Unbreakable
(2000), is often overlooked as it didn't make nearly as much money or attract so much critical approval as The Sixth Sense
did, though it was still well-received. Although it likely started the 'realistic' comic-book film (nearly five years before Batman Begins
' release), it was viewed as low-key and 'normal' — so much so that many people are unaware he directed it. This film also had a Twist Ending
, and may have started the pattern for his movies to follow, which ended up creating a very negative Hype Backlash
with every movie to follow.Signs
(2002) was the first of his films to receive extensive mockery, centering around the now-patented Twist Ending
. Despite this, it was still very popular in cinemas and was his second-most successful movie at the box office. It was also the last of his films to get a mostly positive reception from critics.
Then came The Village
(2004), Lady in the Water
(2006), and The Happening
(2008). The Village
had a few defenders and was quite profitable, but critics were still unkind to it, mainly because the ending was too sharp a curveball. Lady in the Water
broke from the Twist Ending
formula (being based on a bedtime story he had conceived for his daughters), but became the point where in some circles, his status officially degenerated from 'failing director' to 'laughingstock'. The Happening
, an R-rated horror flick about an apocalyptic event, was supposed to be his Win Back the Crowd
movie. It was well-marketed, and more successful commercially than Lady
, but soon became infamous as a So Bad, It's Good
accidental comedy rather than a straight-up horror, as its villains were evil plants.
His next film was The Last Airbender
(2010), adapting the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender
(an animated show Shyamalan stated he quite enjoyed) to the big screen. Many people had reservations about the film based on the previews (being in live action
, the stigma against Shyamalan on itself, and Race Lifting
the main characters), but the trailers won over many of the skeptics
. However, less than one week after the release of the film, it garnered a near-universal negative reaction from both fans and critics alike, currently holding at 6% on Rotten Tomatoes
. In absolute nominal figures, its gross was higher than any movie with which he's been associated since Signs
(in large part because of the fans of the original TV series, many of whom have admitted that they regret spending the money to see it in theaters).
Shyamalan still has an outstanding deal with Media Rights Capital to produce — but not direct — one film a year for the next three years. The first of these, The Night Chronicles: Devil
, was released in September 2010. Trailers initially played up Shyamalan's involvement in the film, but due to negative reaction, his name was not prominently featured in later trailers. His next film was a Will Smith
vehicle called After Earth
(2013); notably, the trailer for After Earth
made absolutely no
mention of Shyamalan's involvement. It wasn't quite as reviled as The Last Airbender
, getting 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, but commercially it failed in the U.S./Canada market (and a movie with Will Smith is usually guaranteed to be a success) and has been compared to Battlefield Earth
, sometimes even being called a worse, or at least less interesting movie.
His next two films, Sundowning
and Labor of Love
, the latter film re-teaming him with Bruce Willis
and a television show entitled Wayward Pines
are due for release at some point in 2015. Time will tell if these projects reverse the trend and if they do, well, what a twist.
Some people wonder why Shyamalan has never made a sequel to Unbreakable
, one of his better-received hits; at the time, Shyamalan insisted he would only use his Auteur License
to make original works, not sequels. What Could Have Been
- Auteur License: The runaway success of The Sixth Sense granted him the ability to make his quirky films without hindrance until his second straight flop resulted in his license being revoked. Nickelodeon probably gave him one for The Last Airbender, and then he went and lost it.
- Biography/Mockumentary: Sci-Fi Network made one of him. It was weird. Highlights included a near-death experience from drowning (which may explain why Unbreakable, Lady in the Water, and Signs all have lakes and rivers as a motif), that most of his films are set within fifty miles of each other, and that pictures with him in it had some odd light distortion.
- Color Motif: His films often use bright colors like red and yellow to emphasize the supernatural or otherwise scary or shocking elements in a scene. This is particularly noticeable in Unbreakable (which also uses the colors green and purple to isolate the characters played by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson).
- Creator Cameo: Shyamalan is noteworthy for appearing in his own movies. With the exception of Lady in the Water,note he tends to portray either villainous characters or characters who have a negative (or negligible) impact on the protagonist.
- Dull Surprise: In most of his films the goal has been to make the characters low-key and avoid overacting at all costs. From The Happening on, he has instead taken this trope.
- I See Dead People: Trope title comes from a line from The Sixth Sense.
- Lampshade Hanging: He lampshades his common theme of twist endings in Unbreakable, where the young Elijah's mother gives him a comic book and tells him, "They say this one has a surprise ending."
- Mandatory Twist Ending: At first, they were truly epic, but as time went on, the obligatory twist often made little sense and was just there because it being there is the rule. Also, no matter how good the twist is, it helps if the hundred minutes leading up to it support this twist instead of being a Shocking Swerve.
- Taken Up to Eleven with After Earth, as even the trailer had one.
- When they lack a twist, that is the twist!