In Defense of… M. Night Shyamalan

In which we present 10 reasons why not to hate the director people love to hate on.

The backlash against M. Night Shyamalan began early and has intensified as his career has progressed. And while, okay, he earned some of those bad vibes (see: Lady in the Water and its "narfs" and "scrunts" and giant eagle called the "Great Eatlon") it has gotten to the point where the director's strengths have all but disappeared from the conversation.

But despite reported/rumored problems with ego and questionable scriptwriting, Shyamalan does have skills as a director that should not go unheralded. He may not be your favorite filmmaker, but he is more than talented enough to deserve another chance. Hopefully After Earth gives him the win he needs to gain back some of his credibility, because it's been a while since Shyamalan was free to just be his crazy, unique self.

 

Reason #1 - He is great at casting

While M. Night Shyamalan does occasionally slip up (you don't put Mark Walhberg in your movie unless he's going to play super angry or super dumb), most of his casting decisions are spot on. Shyamalan gave us not only one of the last great Bruce Willis-with-hair films but one of the first great Bruce Willis-with-no-hair films as well. Signs was also the last time we got to see a sane Mel Gibson onscreen, playing a priest of all things. Paul Giamatti was the only reason ever to watch Lady in the Water. Joking aside, these are good actors well placed by Shyamalan in roles that suited them greatly.

 

Reason #2 - The tweeeest

It has become the go-to joke, but that doesn't make it any less true: The guy likes his twist endings. The shocking conclusion to The Sixth Sense in particular has gone on to become an enduring moment of popular culture, like the ending of Planet of the Apes or the origin of "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane. But Shyamalan pulled off great twist endings for Unbreakable and The Village as well. The director has focused far less on these lately, but it remains his signature to this day.

 

Reason #3 - He made The Sixth Sense

There would be no M. Night Shyamalan without The Sixth Sense. Released before the director became a star in his own right, audiences had no idea what to expect from this supernatural suspense film, which is part of why it was able to catch so many off guard. The Sixth Sense not only wowed audiences but when onto receive a bevy of awards and six Academy Award nominations, giving it artistic credibility as well as box office success.

 

Reason #4 - His unyielding understatement

People do not give M. Night Shyamalan enough credit for his understatement and cinematic reserve. His films tend to be quiet, far cries from the effects-driven roller coaster rides that occupy movie screens especially in summer. Shyamalan lets his films breath and unfold at a leisurely pace. Even when it comes time to pull the rug out from under your feet, he often does so in the simplest way possible.

 

Reason #5 - He knows suspense

We have so few directors today who focus solely on suspense. Most fall either on the side of thrills or outright horror. M. Night Shyamalan is different. Though not always successful (having people run from wind in The Happening probably wasn't a great idea) his thrills tend to build tension thanks to what you can't see. The alien birthday party camcorder footage from Signs is a great example of Shyamalan at his suspenseful best.

 

Reason #6 - He made Unbreakable

Released at a time when superhero movies were not a dime a dozen, M. Night Shyamalan's somber follow up to The Sixth Sense only grows more unique the more Marvel and DC Comics characters make it to the big screen. The genius here is that until the very end of the film, Unbreakable's true genre remains somewhat elusive. When Samuel L. Jackson's Mr. Glass brings the shocking truth down upon Bruce Willis' David Dunn, he suddenly transforms this suspenseful family drama into one of the quietest, sneakiest superhero films ever made. Maybe someday we'll get that sequel.

 

Reason #7 - He's interested in modern myth

M. Night Shyamalan has a genuine interest in how the power of myth and storytelling plays roles in our modern life. Unbreakable takes an adult perspective on what godlike superheroes would look like in our present world. The Village illustrates how fiction can define our reality. And most famously, Lady in the Water directly credits storytelling for saving the world. While his ambition (and self-congratulations) can sometimes go overboard, it's always of interest when a director explores similar themes across multiple films. You may not appreciate the substance, but at least some substance is present.

 

Reason #8 – He can do humor – no, really

M. Night Shyamalan rarely gets credit for this, but his films can occasionally be very funny, usually during moments of great tension. The gun scene in Unbreakable for instance, has a certain funny element to it, as does most everything done by Joaquin Phoenix in Signs. He's not so skilled that it's time for him to direct Ghostbusters 3 or anything, but it's a side of the director that too often goes unmentioned.

 

Reason #9 - He produced The Devil

The proposed Night Chronicles Trilogy M. Night Shymalan was meant to supply original stories for and produce is so far only one film deep, but it's a good one. Essentially, an extra-long episode of The Twilight Zone, The Devil offers a small, but economic suspense film in which a group of people find themselves stuck in an elevator with Satan. One by one they get taken out as we all guess which remaining person is the titular Devil in disguise. It's a fun bit of horror that never would have happened without Shyamalan.

 

Reason #10 - He has confidence

A lot of what people dislike about M. Night Shyamalan is also one of his biggest strengths: His arrogance. That may sound backwards and wrongheaded, but it takes a lot of confidence to make films, especially films that bear the mark of their creator as thoroughly as Shyamalan's. The amount of ego that goes into that is often astronomical. M. Night Shyamalan is a unique voice. This means that when he fails, it's easy to point and laugh, but when he's good, he's really, really good.

Love him, hate him, not buying our argument? Tell us!

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Next Article by Derrick Deane

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