M. Night Shyamalan Happens


After the disaster that was Lady in the Water, seems like M. Night Shyamalan’s backers have got another marketing trick up their sleeve as they release his latest film, The Happening: Promote the hell out of the fact that it’s the director’s first R-rated movie. It’s probably not enough of an incentive to outdo The Incredible Hulk as the summer season box office continues to heat up, but the reviews so far have been on Shyamalan’s side. As the sci-fi auteur awaits the final tallies, MM takes a look at the roller coaster ride Shyamalan has taken critics and audiences on since The Sixth Sense.

Haley Joel Osment saw dead people, but audiences didn’t see a twist ending coming in Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. The film grossed more than $661 million worldwide, and Hollywood’s newest “it” boy was born.

One year after The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan re-teamed with Bruce Willis and brought Samuel L. Jackson in on the action for Unbreakable. Reviews were mixed, and the film—which tells the story of the sole survivor of a horrific train crash—couldn’t break the $100 million mark stateside. But audiences looking for that signature “twist” ending were rewarded, even if it did seem “a little arbitrary, as if Shyamalan plucked it out of the air and tried to make it fit,” according to Roger Ebert.

Aware that audiences were growing a little weary of the expected “twist,” Shyamalan’s Signs, in 2002, seemed a direct homage to the director he was most often compared to: Alfred Hitchcock. His kids (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) have one theory, Phoenix has another. Ultimately, Gibson’s faith is put to the test.

The twist is back! A small village in Pennsylvania makes a pact with the creatures in the woods surrounding them: We won’t bother you if you don’t bother us. But that darn Joaquin Phoenix has to go and ruin everything when he seeks medical supplies from a town beyond his own. The creatures begin to retaliate—but nothing is what it seems! Ebert wasn’t so kind this time around; his one-star review introduced the film as a “colossal miscalculation.”

Even Paul Giamatti couldn’t help the disaster that was Lady in the Water redeem Shyamalan. When Disney famously passed on the script for Shyamalan’s latest gothic fantasy, Warner Bros. snatched it up—don’t they wish they could take that decision back. One critic described the film as “a ponderous, self-indulgent bedtime tale,” and the fact that Shyamalan cast himself as a writer whose brilliant ideas would change the world only helped to distance those remaining fans who were still holding out hope for the inventiveness of The Sixth Sense.

The previews don’t tell us much about what The Happening is all about—only that it’s Shyamalan’s first R-rated movie. But it seems that this one’s got all the elements of classic Shyamalan: A family in crisis and a supernatural happening. It may not stand a chance of beating The Incredible Hulk at the box office, but Ebert, for one, is starting to believe again. Though he admits that “I suspect I’ll be in the minority in praising this film. It will be described as empty, uneventful, meandering. But for some, it will weave a spell.”

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