M. Night Shyamalan's latest film, Glass, hits theaters this weekend. In baseball terms, M. Night is a "home run hitter". He's going to swing for the fences every single time. He will have a high percentage of strike outs, but he will also hit it over the fence quite a few times. His movies are often hit or miss. All or nothing. Sink or swim.
Real quick let's revisit some of the fails before acknowledging his achievements.
He had a run from 2006-2013 that most directors would never recover from. He put out "Lady in the Water", "The Happening", "The Last Airbender", & "After Earth". Those four movies have a COMBINED score of 59% on Rotten Tomatoes. Four duds in a row is tough to come back from. He's pretty much washed that stink off of himself.
These are the five movies from M Night Shymalan that I would recommend watching to appreciate what he can do when he's firing on all cylinders.
THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)
No movie going experience has ever topped this one, for me. That feeling when the rug is pulled out from under you the first time has never been equaled. M. Night has been trying to recreate that feeling ever since. For better or worse, it has become his trademark. The twist ending. This goes down as probably his best known film. A young boy is haunted by images of the dead, with the help of a psychiatrist he seeks to rid himself of this burden. The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. It is still one of the strongest debut features from any director. But (and this might be a hot take), I don't consider it his best film.
The Sixth Sense is streaming on Netflix.
The best M. Night Shyamalan film is Unbreakable. There, I said it! Bruce Willis stars as the sole survivor of a train crash, he is befriended by a creepy comic book collector name Elijah (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Unbreakable came out before superhero movies were the norm. Spider-Man with Tobey Macguire was still two years away. M Night made a better superhero movie than just about everybody since. The emotional weight of many of the scenes are something that you don't often see in big budget superhero movies because they can dazzle you with tech instead of character development. The twist ending left me dumbfounded, admittedly not quite like The Sixth Sense. And in hindsight, we all should have seen it coming.
Unbreakable is now streaming on SyFy. Yes, you need to see this to understand Glass.
With a twist ending that is about as well known as "Bruce Willis was dead the whole time", Split is a movie that connects with Unbreakable. The two movies will converge in "Glass". A man with 24 different identities kidnaps young girls and feeds them to his most dangerous persona, The Beast. The film is at times wacky and heartbreaking. It works because of James McAvoy's commitment to the character. And his ability to jump in and out of different characters on a dime. Regardless of what you think of the movie as a whole, McAvoy's character work is to be applauded. Especially since, the only thing that matters at the end of this movie is that is creates a shared M Night Universe with Unbreakable.
Split is available for rent. Yes you need to see this before seeing Glass.
People forget about Signs, and that's kind of sad. Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix star as a family living on a farm that is tormented by crop circles. It sets a mood throughout. M Night movies never have a large budget, so he can't create a bloody scare fest. He has to write his scares into the script with tension. The movie leads to a reveal that is heart-warming. At this point in his career, M Night was an outstanding 3 for 3. Three movies. Three twist endings. Three great movies. They were all box office and critical successes. It would be his last overwhelming success for 17 years. Think about that.
Signs is available for rent.
THE VILLAGE (2004)
I'm the small amount of people that maintain there's a good film in somewhere. M. Night's fourth film revolved around a village of colonials that were forbidden from leaving the village or else a demonic force would destroy them. At this point in time, viewers were on to M Night's Shyamalan's shenanigans. You were in your seat guessing what the twist would be. The inclusion of a twist ending was no longer a surprise. And I, like many of you, guessed it before the reveal. It didn't hamper the story. This felt like an updated Twilight Zone story to me. It was just stretched out to a two hour long movie instead of fifteen minutes.
The Village is streaming on Netflix.