So I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s film SPLIT over the weekend. After shaking my head while watching some uncomfortable and what I thought to be ridiculous moments in the film, I pushed these thoughts out of my head and continued down his seemingly predictable path. Shyamalan does not have a good record with me. It all started with his breakout hit The Sixth Sense, which I loved. It was a movie that gave me chills while watching in the theater. Soon after he was the hottest topic in Hollywood and boy did he embrace it.
I mean, if you’re coming out on magazines like the one above, you’re either a glutton for punishment or your narcissism levels reach to sociopath peaks.
It was after The Sixth Sense when everything started falling apart. His next box office success Signs had some cool moments but overall it felt pretentious and self serving. Like, “hey, look how deep and intertwined my storytelling capabilities are.” As mentioned the movie did have some cool moments. Like the news footage segment of the creature walking past the video camera. That was awesome! What got me was how this really cool alien story was tied in with a deep and emotionally charged faith story. I just wanted to grab Shyamalan by the neck and scream “stick with aliens and save the heart string pulling drama for the Hallmark Channel.” Signs in fact, gets so dramatic that it makes me not really want to watch it again. That scene where Mel Gibson is having a final conversation with his wife is a terrible thing to watch. It really makes you feel bad. You can argue that my statement right there is a reason why he is a great filmmaker. He provided so much emotion that you’re turned off by his films. Like a Darren Aaronosky. But Shyamalan, is the self-proclaiming Hitchcock of his time. I will argue I’ve never watched a Hitchcock film that was so dramatic that I didn’t want to watch it again.
The Village is another film that drove me insane. Midway through the film, because M. Night is all about the “twist,” I thought to myself, “If this ends up to be some nature preserve they are living on, I’m done.” Sure enough, after a brilliant performance by Bryce Dallas Howard and some really cool visuals, it turned out the towns folk living in “the village” were a victims group who no longer wanted to be apart of society and retreated to the woods. That was the end of Shyamalan and me. Busch league. And don’t get me started on how he inserts himself into all of his movies. That’s another fantasy camp move.
Now I don’t know M. Night Shyamalan at all, so this is all my preconceived ideas of him as a person. To me, he portrays the guy that decided he will be called “M. Night Shyamalan” before he made his first film. He’s spent hours perfecting his autograph so it will be exactly how he wants it to be represented to his fans. A guy who had a persona packet already created when he pitched himself to agencies. It read things like, “I will be known professionally as M. Night Shyamalan.” “I am the new Hitchcock.” ” I only tell complex and deep stories with meaning.” ” I will be the master of suspense.” That’s the kind of dude I see when watching his movies. Maybe it’s just me, but I kinda think I’m right.
Over the past decade M. Night has turned into a pun. “It needs more twist!” Peaking with The Sixth Sense and slowly moving downward until you get to the real turds like The Last Airbender and the movie where Marky-Mark can’t figure out what happened to all the honey bees. M. Nights days of getting a decent budget looked to be running out.
2016 marked the release of M. Night’s thriller SPLIT starring the always great James McAvoy and a trio of hot young girls. As mentioned above, I thought here we go again while watching the film.
The breakthrough moment when we learn that our lead captive Casey played by Anya Taylor-Joy was molested by her Uncle when she was a little girl made me slap my face and think “what the hell!” For one, I will never get that visual of Brad William Henke who played Uncle John resting on his hands and knees in his boxer briefs luring his 5 year old niece to come and wrestle with him in the woods. I instantly flashed back to Signs when Mel Gibson was talking to his dying wife pinned against a tree as she was about to expire. Here we go with the over-the-top drama. I signed up for a scary thriller about a crazy kidnapper, not a movie about a girl who is dealing with serious emotional life ruining events. I believe I even muttered the words “horse-shit” out loud.
As the film progressed the taste in my mouth got nastier and nastier. I didn’t like the fact that McAvoy was able to climb walls and deflect bullets. This made no sense to me. How? I understand people can change certain brain functions and body postures with different personalities but they are still human. Humans just can’t do things like that. As the film concluded and we find out that Casey is spared due to her cutting issue. Another deep emotional issue that sucks all the fun out of the story. We see Casey goes home to her molesting Uncle John because he is now the primary guardian of her. What a fucking bummer man! At this point I’m thinking what in the world is M. Night trying to do here. This is not only career suicide but it’s just not good. We are then brought to the final scene of the film in the diner when the infamous M. Night “Twist” unveils itself. A couple of girls at the counter are watching a news story showing that Casey has been rescued. The news calls her captor “The Hoard” due to his numerous personalities. One of the girls then says to the others “That guy who got locked up 15 years ago, they gave him a funny name too.” The camera pans down the counter to a man dressed in a jumpsuit with a tag marked “Dunn.” He simply says: “Mr. Glass.” That man is Bruce Willis.
This is an obvious tie in to Shyamalan’s 2000 film Unbreakable starring Bruce Willis as David Dunn. Now I wasn’t a huge fan of Unbreakable but I didn’t think it was bad at all. Actually as far as superhero movies go, it would be one of my favorites. I’m not a superhero person at all. Even as a kid, never into it.
Why is this the movie M. Night had to make? Even after waking up the morning after I watched SPLIT, I still thought it was stupid and the ending was terrible. Later that day as the entirety of it sank in, I started my 180. Growing and growing until eventually I thought it was actually kind of brilliant. See, besides The Sixth Sense, M. Night hadn’t garnered the same accolades for any other of his films. When Unbreakable came out I don’t think it was a box office smash but it did okay. But add time to it and the fact that superhero films are white hot and that cult following has grown bigger and bigger. Even to the point where I watched it again years later because I had read so many things about how great the film was.
M. Night is walking a tightrope right now and any misstep could leave him into obscurity. Maybe it’s not that dramatic but it would lead him into the Eli Roth zone of filmmaking. Not that I have anything wrong with Roth. I actually love his movies. It’s just that he doesn’t get the budgets and releases like M. Night currently does.
Shyamalan’s choice to make a film that ties into Unbreakable in a subtle way is an excellent career move. This original superhero genre should enable him to create his own movies with stories he wants to tell utilizing the world these exceptional characters live in. All the while movie studios see the word “franchise” tickling their pocket books.
Now, I still think that SPLIT had some weird moments, like Casey’s backstory and her cutting. If M. Night is using this traumatic story to tell another story featuring Casey and the powers she enables, that would be beyond brilliant. During the film the case Dr. Fletcher presents in her Skype session at a conference is that through traumatic experiences the mind will sometimes break unlocking powers that are beyond our understanding. Some of her patients are able to speak multiple languages without ever learning them, one can utilize two streams of consciousness, enabling her to write different things with both hands at the same time, and we witnessed what “the beast” can do. I would imagine that a lifetime of being abused and then being held captive by a guy with multiple personalities who’s trying to kill you could be enough to break you. It will be interesting to see if this world Shyamalan is constructing will continue to thrive.
I really like the idea of him creating these characters based in reality that can be put into all kinds of different thrilling scenarios and tie in with one another seamlessly. The timing is perfect for this kind superhero/thriller genre. M. Night Shyamalan, whatever it means to you, you’ve got my trust again. Keep it up.