What Ever Happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

M_-Night-Shyamalan1

I have a handful of favorites: authors, actors, singers, etc.  These people have earned such faithful loyalty that I will watch/read/listen to whatever they release simply because I have enough confidence in them to believe my time will not be wasted.

Occasionally, I suffer for this assumption. The truth is that no one is always great. Tom Hanks is my absolute favorite actor, but Lady Killers? Well, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The movie didn’t destroy my admiration for him, but when I noticed his next release, I bought it a bit less enthusiastically. Looking back, I can’t remember what that next move was, only that he was great and my faith was restored.

When it comes to M. Night, I can’t describe myself as a mere fan. The man was a genius. The Sixth Sense? Come on! Fantastic performances by every actor. Creepy without being over-the-top. There was a subtleness to his movies that always appealed to me.

Mel-Gibson-and-Rory-Culkin-foreground-and-Abigail-Breslin-and-Joaquin-Phoenix-background-in-Touchstones-Signs-2002-0

Signs was the opposite of Independence Day. There were no large-scale military maneuvers. No UFOs crashing into skyscrapers. No White House annihilated. It was an alien movie in which the aliens were almost beside the point. They provided the mystery, the tension, but this movie was really about the characters. It was (pre-crazy) Mel Gibson and (pre-crazy) Joaquin Phoenix, survivors of life, struggling to hold themselves–and their family–together.

Maybe the resolution was a little convenient. Maybe all the pieces fit together too neatly. Doesn’t matter. This is still one of my favorite movies, ever, because I was invested in more than the latest CGI effect. I was invested in the emotion of the story.

Fast forward a couple years and you get The Village.

the-village-beast

Now, I know this was panned by critics (as most of his works ended up being), but I enjoyed it. Again, you have (pre-crazy) Joaquin Phoenix, along with a stellar cast of less flashy actors…and, again, you have a somewhat bizarre ending. Maybe I’m naïve, or just a terrible judge of movies, but it worked for me. I thought the spooky feel was well-maintained throughout, that the characters provided compelling drama, and the overall result was exceptional. Screw the ending. I enjoyed the ride.

Which brings us to The Happening.

happening

It isn’t the end of the world. There are no zombies, aliens, or dangerous, deadly flu epidemics. This is, instead, the story of a bizarre happening. For whatever reason, people start going berserk. There’s a “plague” drifting on the breeze, infecting those present with uncontrollable suicidal urges. Tell me that’s not compelling stuff!

To top it off, we have a never-been-crazy Mark Wahlberg, the always entertaining John Leguizamo, and a fresh-faced Zooey Deschanel. They were all excellent. I bought into their fear and uncertainty, even as I marveled at the things going on around them.

If you’re looking for global devastation and widespread nation-wide destruction, these movies weren’t going to do it for you. His films excelled not at their fast pace or their special effects. They delivered real emotional impact instead. If appreciated for what they were, rather than the “issue” used as a backdrop for the characters to wade through, they were perfect.

At this point in his career, I’d have watched his attempt at an educational gardening video. That’s how much I liked his movies. Then…he disappeared.

Okay, he didn’t disappear. He didn’t even stop making movies. Looking over his film credits, he was steadily producing a movie every two years. But after The Happening, something changed. I didn’t even hear about The Last Airbender or After Earth until after they were on DVD and, though I watched them, I failed to love them.

The director I’d once known and loved was gone. Maybe he grew too sensitive to critic’s complaints. It could’ve been an issue with ego. I really don’t know. All I can say is that I miss the director of Lady in the Water, and the unique approach he had to filmmaking.

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