What is Wrong With M. Night Shyamalan

Note: 1). This post will very likely contain spoilers of some sort, so don’t read if you don’t want to know stuff about certain movies. 2). The title of this post isn’t meant to come across sounding completely angry or spiteful, the question it possesses is merely one I intent to confront in this post.  Okay, that is it for notes for now . . .

So, last night, after eating some left over gumbo at Meg and Evan’s house, Evan and I decided to go watch Mr. Shyamalan‘s newest movie, “The Happening” starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel.  Admittedly I was a little skeptical about seeing this movie because I have been disappointed with something about every other M. Night Shyamalan movie I have seen.  Here is the thing though, I’ve never left watching a film by Mr. Shyamalan and said, “that was an awful piece of shit, I can’t believe I just spent time watching that!”  But I have responded to all his movies with a general feel of dissatisfaction and after watching “The Happening” and thinking about it over a night’s sleep I think I may finally have found what it is that bothers me about Mr. Shyamalan’s films.  Of course this is all a matter of personal opinion and y’all are more than welcome to agree, disagree, claim that Shyamalan is the greatest director of all times, or say that his work is little more than colorful dog shit . . . anyway, let’s see if I can write this so that I am making the most sense.  Allow my friend Haley Joel Osment to express the idea for me:


This is exactly what I believe.  It isn’t that M. Night Shyamalan can’t come up with some pretty good movie premises.  It isn’t that he can’t get the audiences to jump at certain times.  It isn’t even that the acting or the cinematography in his films seem all that bad.  But what it comes down to in the end, I think, is that he just kind of cops out for mediocrity and ultimately this pisses people off.  

Allow me to discuss further by considering a couple of his films.

First off, Mr. Shyamalan has three films that he directed/wrote that I have not seen.  They are, “Praying With Anger” “Wide Awake” and “Lady in the Water.”  Of these three Shyamalan films that I haven not seen I know absolutely nothing about the first two and so can pass no judgment.  Of “Lady in the Water” all I can say is that it received such god awful reviews even I was not interested in the least bit.  Beyond that I have seen every other movie that Shyamalan has directed.

Let’s start with the movie that really put M. Night’s name on the board, that of course being 1999’s “The Sixth Sense.”  Personally I think that of all of Mr. Shyamalan’s movies that I’ve seen this has to be my favorite.  It is a good ghost story that is creepy enough to freak you out but not so scary that you will loose a ton of sleep over it (though, seeing it in theaters when I was 15 years old, it did make having to take a piss at night a little bit freaky for a few days).  Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis both do a really fantastic job acting in the film.  But here is my criticism.  I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen in the movie before going to see it (I hadn’t heard about the twist or anything) all I knew is that it was a ghost movie that was getting some pretty descent reviews.  But within the first ten minutes or so of the movie I had figured out that Bruce Willis’ character was obviously a ghost himself (first spoiler right here for any of y’all who haven’t seen “The Sixth Sense” though by now, even if you haven’t seen it, you probably have heard about the twist).  I didn’t need to watch over an hour and a half of the film to figure that out.  I guess what really got me is how many people, upon seeing “The Sixth Sense” were like, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”  Seriously? I don’t know, maybe people are not as perceptive as I was at 15, but I thought the fact that Bruce Willis’ character get shot right in the beginning of a movie about ghosts was a pretty good clue that he was dead, further supported by the fact that the only person who ever talks to him throughout the rest of the movie is the kid who just so happens to be able to see said ghosts.  All and all it wasn’t a bad film but I just felt that the “twist” was kind of weak and predictable and considering the relative quality of the rest of the movie this left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

Next we have “Unbreakable” again with Willis but this time also including Samuel L. Jackson.  “Unbreakable” is yet again a rather original premise focusing on two characters; one who seems to be invulnerable to harm and have a strange ability to know what people have done when touching them (Willis) and another man who is incredibly frail and harm prone (Jackson).  The story kind of takes a super hero type of twist with Jackson urging Willis to use his powers.  In the end it turns out that Jackson has caused a whole slew of disasters in hopes of finding a person just like Willis to be his “nemesis.”  It has been quite a while since I last saw “Unbreakable” but I just remember thinking, “Okay, kind of a cool plot, but just so nihilistic and all around disinterested.”  Samuel L. Jackson is definitely the highlight of the movie in my opinion but beyond him it just struck me as kind of meandering and not really giving a flying fuck about existing.  Quite essentially it just seemed “half-assed.”

Moving on.  2002’s “Signs” starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.  Of all of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies that I’ve seen, “Signs” is my least favorite because I think it the least creative.  Sure it has it’s moments of suspense and a few good jumps here and there but I just wasn’t all that struck by a sense of originality.  And then there is this whole background story about the death of Mel Gibson’s character’s wife and some jazz about Joaquin Phoenix and baseball and it all just kind of sucked.  Really I can’t put my finger on a specific detail beyond saying, again, that the movie just seemed pretty half-assed and kind of a poor rip off of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (the aliens in The War of the Worlds were vulnerable to Earth microbes and in “Signs” they were vulnerable to water.  There were other weak similarities too).

After “Signs” we had 2004’s “The Village” again with Joaquin Phoenix and introducing Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of Ron Howard.  Next to “The Sixth Sense” I think this is my other favorite film by M. Night Shyamalan.  “The Village” really did (does) have an originality to it.  The premise of a secluded village bordered by a forest supposedly inhabited by unknown monsters is quite captivating.  The look and feel of the movie is also rather good.  But, like “The Sixth Sense” I had kind of seen the plot twist coming from afar and this annoyed me.  The spoiler is that there are not really any monsters, it is just the village elders in disguise to keep the other villagers from asking too many questions or trying to leave.  The village it turns out is in the modern world, just hidden in a giant nature reserve.  Okay, great, neat twist jackass.  I would have been much happier if there really had been some strange creatures in the woods and if it really was a secluded village in say either some post-apocalyptic world or a whole different world.  Why?  I don’t know that just seemed more appealing than the twist.  It was another “Really, that is what you are going to pull?” moment in Shyamalan films.

Skip M. Night. Shyamalan’s next movie, “Lady in the Water” and that brings us to “The Happening.”  Again, like most of his films (except maybe “Signs”) we are given a pretty interesting premise and two good actors (well one is an actress).  The images of people offing themselves in various ways for unknown reasons is quite creative and even the eventual possible explanation, that plants are producing some chemical that is causing people to commit suicide, is intriguing.  All around the basic plot makes for a rather different look at the apocalyptic film (no huge violent natural disasters or invasive somethings or others like zombies, aliens, or robots) but, as has turned out to be status quo with Shyamalan at this point, the movie just seemed weak and not really all that driven with itself.  I think both Wahlberg and Deschanel are very good at acting but even they seemed a bit lost and weak in “The Happening.”  All around I left the movie, last night, feeling like there had been a potential good idea with a relatively good start that just kind of fizzled out.  It seemed like there were a number of options where the movie could have really kicked it up a bit (like some more on the need for groups to separate or the crazy recluse lady) but never did.  Again it just fizzled.

So, what is my suggestion to Mr. Shyamalan?  Personally I think he has the ability to think up some pretty descent premises and plot ideas but he lacks skill at carrying them through to full fruition.  Also, while his directing isn’t horrible I have seen similar movies done much better.  What I would suggest is that M. Night Shyamalan sticks to producing.  He hires himself a few talented young writers and he brainstorms some plot ideas with them but lets one or two of them handle most of the writing end.  Then he finds a director, somebody who will really embrace a project and not cop out (and also won’t over do the whole special effects thing) and lets them go with it.  Hell Shyamalan can even still make his stupidly vain cameos in these movies if he wants to, but all and all let others handle them because chances are some people can do a better job than he can.

There, I’ve said it, I think M. Night Shyamalan creates half assed movies that could have been good if somebody else had been handling them.

Post Notes: 1).  I’d love to hear what people think about my conclusion and M. Night Shyamalan, just keep it respectful (to me, I could care less if you want to rip Shyamalan a new one).  2).  I feel like I deserve a thank you card from IMDb for the number of hotlinks to their site that I’ve included on this post. 3). This is definitely on of the longest posts I’ve written in quite some time, it was real fun!

~ by Nathaniel on June 17, 2008.

8 Responses to “What is Wrong With M. Night Shyamalan”

  1. Funny occurance (maybe even a shitty idea for a shitty m. night movie?): I just read your post, big brother, which was very well written and well thought-out. Upon returning to facebook (where i use the link to get here) I found that my old friend Ryan McGinnis invited me to a group called M. Night Shyamalan Needs to Stop Making Movies. I think this is a sign that I have to kill Mr. Shyamalan, or at least prevent him from making painfully predictable and/or lame plot twists. Thanks for the entertainment at work and props for the H.J.O picture.

  2. Yeah, brotherly comraderie! If M. Night suddenly turns up missing I’ll be your alibie little brother!

  3. Tom M. (really long last name not included for fear of more spam mail) here. Been awhile, Nathaniel.

    Another funny occurance. I too joined Ryan’s group, but not before having a drawn a comic about M.Night McWeirdname. My guess is this is his twist for your blog, and Ryan is in on it.

  4. From the perspective of person who adores Shyamalan work and actually considers him as one of few persons today that can make a movie which inspires, puts in thought, expands the horizons and revitalizes imagination, after years of well-fought battles against the bad critic and such men, I figured there cannot be a conclusion other than A) You are a person that doesn’t have the little braincell requierd to understand (in an optimal, supreme way, the phronesis, look upon dictionary if you wonder) Shyamalan, or B) You are a person that does have that little braincell with which you can see Shyamalan in such far sight that eventually, you aren’t sure is it possible that one men can express so much with 90 minutes Hollywood movie; in respond to non-deniable work of art such as Kants or Baudelaires. As one person once said: “Shyamalan’s movies are 100 years ahead of our time.”; And when I just recall of Lady in the Water, Unbreakable or Signs, I cannot agree more.

  5. I will reply to your remarks by saying that I have spent a lot of time watching a hell of a lot of movies over the years; some great, some shitty, some somewhere in between. As such I like to think that I have at least a marginal appreciation for film and can determine on my own accords whether or not a movie is one of quality or is completely lacking in such. I try not to let critics influence my own opinion; if a movie sounds interesting to me I will take the time to go see it regardless of the reviews and form my own opinion (hence why I bothered to go see “The Happening”). That being said, as I’ve pointed out in the above post, I’ve seen a lot of Shyamalan’s movies and have, time and again, not been overly impressed. I give the guy credit for the ability to create rather original ideas, I also give him credit for his tenacity, but I haven’t seen him pull off what I would consider a piece of amazing film. Is he the most horrible director of all time? No, not at all. Are there better directors than him? Without a doubt. Now here is the big one; could he be better? Personally I’d have to say yes. It seems apparent that you would say he is good enough. Perhaps you are correct and his movies are a hundred years ahead of his time (oh, and not to nitpick but if you are going to use a quote in an argument it is usually pertinent to cite who said such so that it can be determined whether it is actually a valuable statement in regards to the discussion). On the other hand in a hundred years Shyamalan may be all but forgotten in the world of film. In conclusion I will admit to my biases as far as his works go, and point out that obviously you have your own as well, and close by saying that is absolutely wonderful because who doesn’t like having subjective opinions? Thanks for reading and the comment.

  6. List me names of directors…pardon, not directors, hm…movie makers, since the guy does it all alone, you consider “better”, please.

  7. Personally I would list directors such as Orson Welles, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Copolla, Clint Eastwood (his directorial work not the stuff he acted in), and some, though certainly not all, of Steven Spielberg’s works as being far superior to anything Mr. Shyamalan has ever done. I would much rather watch, and likely find more merit, in films directed by people like Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze than those by M. Night. But again, as I’ve stated in my last response, this is all a subjective opinion. I consider these people more talented and better at directing/movie-making than M. Night Shyamalan. You may (and you are more than welcome too) disagree. As far as what constitutes “better” and/or “the best” in a topic like directors it is impossible to have an objective truth. Is it by sheer popularity (aka the money that the works can make)? Is it the Critics’ responses? Is it how the works are viewed as having an overall impact on the art and style of film as a whole? There are a lot of factors that have to be taken into consideration, and even after that it really doesn’t mean all that much if you or I or anybody else still has a personal preference. That is the wonder of the arts and how we interact with them. It is kind of like how people eat; we all have different tastes.

    How about you? Besides Shyamalan (who I believe you have clearly demonstrated that you like), what other directors do you enjoy? It is wonderful and good to have a favorite (presently I give a lot of my props to Mr. Anderson and his works) but I also think it is important to be rounded and able to appreciate different people and the differences in their works.

  8. […] matters of personal opinion (you can judge for yourself by reading the comments and my responses on this post).  I personally allowed all of them because they drove a bit of a conversation and even if there […]

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