With “The Happening” coming this weekend (too bad it’s going up against The Incredible Hulk), our eyes are once again turned to that very unique filmmaker (hey… love him or hate him, you’ve got to admit he certainly does have his own style), The ShamHammer himself, M. Night Shyamalan.
So in honor of his forthcoming release, I thought it would be fun to look back on his films up to this point and rank them in order of best to worst. Now let me give this quick disclaimer… for most people, M. Night Shyamalan came into existence with The Sixth Sense, even thought he did have 2 films before that (Praying with Anger and Wide Awake)… so for the purposes of this post, were just going to look at the career of Shyamalan starting with Sixth Sense.
I’ve gone on record many times and said that I believe that M. Night Shyamalan’s films have gotten progressively worse and worse since that break out with Sixth Sense. As I’ve put my list here together though… I’ve come to realize that isn’t actually 100% true… you’ll see what I mean.
M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S FILMS FROM BEST TO WORST
1) THE SIXTH SENSE
There are good movies… and then there are movies that effect their audiences so much (either with fear, laughter, shock, excitement… whatever) that they go beyond being just a film, and become a part of the pop-culture fabric itself. And it wasn’t even just the catch line “I see dead people” either. The whole film was brilliantly orchestrated. The screenplay was only outdone by the direction. And the ending redefined what a “twist” came to mean. As a matter of fact… now whenever you mention a “twist ending”, people everywhere generally think about Sixth Sense… as a matter of fact, I’ve read some critics now who just refer to a twist ended as “pulling a sixth sense”. A fantastic, well thought out, creepy and haunting film. Truly the Shamhammer’s coming out party, and unquestionably his best film by miles.
In this film, M. Night Shyamalan showed us that he understood the most important thing about directing a “horror” or scary film. That one thing is understanding that what the audience DOESN’T see, will scare them a whole hell of a lot more than what they DO see if the atmosphere and environment are set up properly. That damn scene where Mel Gibson is out in the corn fields looking around and just BARELY catches a glimpse of a foot as it disappears into the field was AWESOME! BRILLIANT shot selection. But it wasn’t just the disappearing foot… it was the atmosphere that Shammy already set up. Very good characters, very good scares…. all almost wasted by a terrible ending… but overall still a solid film.
This is where my “progressively worse” theory hits a snag. Unbreakable actually came out before Signs… I feel Signs is just ahead of it in quality. Unbreakable was a very interesting idea… a very different kind of Superhero movie. Bruce Willis’ character is a fantastic one, and the slow unraveling of his mystery is well crafted. However, i think this film get over hyped for it’s INTENTION rather than it’s actual results. Samuel L Jackson’s character could have been one of the best ever… but he ends up being just so lame… so silly… and I’ll say it… so comic booky, that after a while he just got annoying. Another terrible ending (I’m sorry, but Jackson’s big plan reveal at the end was so ridiculous that it wasted much of the great set up of the film) too. Unbreakable had the makings of being a great movie… had the potential of being a great movie… had all the elements of being a great movie… but in its execution it feel to the floor of being a pretty good movie…. sort of.
4) THE VILLAGE
To me, The Village was the film where the proverbial shoe dropped for M. Night Shyamalan. A movie whose ending I (and many other people) predicted literally almost 2 months before the film opened. An M. Night Shyamalan film without any sense of suspense or surprise becomes a very thin and very empty experience. The Village also lacked any compelling characters like his previous films had and instead relied on character gimmicks to make them appear interesting. The movie seemed to come from a great idea (as most of Shammy’s films do), but didn’t really have a clear idea of how to cultivate that idea into a solid narrative (which to be fair… isn’t easy). The first legitimately “bad” M. Night Shyamalan film… but unfortunately it would not be his last, nor would it be his worst. There was still “Lady In The Water” to come.
5) LADY IN THE WATER
In the months leading up to the release of “Lady In The Water”, I wrote a post called “John’s 5 Most Anticipated Movies Of 2006” in which I acknowledged that Shammy had been losing it, and totally screwed the dog with “The Village”, but that Lady In The Water looked good to me and it made it to the #5 spot on my list. Little did I know that what I was going to get instead was one of the worst motion pictures in history. No really. What was on my most anticipated list ended up ranking at #1 in my “Worst Movies Of 2007” list. Here’s what I said about Lady In The Water in that post:
“Lady in the Water embodies the downfall of M. Night Shyamalan and all the things that led to it. Without a doubt the most self absorbed, self serving and self praising piece of cinematic garbage to dirty the screen this year. What starts off with a promising concept and mythology, quickly gets flushed down the toilet with witless banter, massive logic jumps, poor story telling all of which was almost drowned out by the loud sound of M. Night patting himself on the back. A total mess from start to finish, Lady in the Water shows us what can happen when a director without all that much credits to his name starts believing all his own press. Easily, the worst film of 2006.”
So now we come to “The Happening”. Early word hasn’t been promising and in general we just don’t hear people buzzing about this film like we’re used to seeing before the release of a Shammy movie. We’ll have to see how it turns out. One thing I will say is this… great talent just doesn’t disappear. M. Night Shyamalan has proved he has talent with films like Sixth Sense, Signs and to a lesser degree Unbreakable. So what has happened to him? Personally I think his ego and rejection of studio input are the main culprits… but that’s just speculation on my part. So while I’m not excited to see “The Happeneing” this week, I am nonetheless interested in seeing what that good ol’ ShamHammer has come up with now.
So how about you? How would you rank Shammy’s films? Do you think he’s lost it? Do you still have faith in him? What are you expecting from The Happening? Let us know in the comments section.