Continuing our brand new series, we slip into our pinstripe suits and don a pair of horn-rimmed glasses to scrutinize the ever-shifting stock prices of Hollywood’s finest, based on ratings of their notable films. This week: director M Night Shyamalan (MNS).
Before tinseltown was touting him as the “new Spielberg” and a master of suspense to rival Hitchcock in his heyday, it may surprise you to learn that Mr Manoj Shyamalan (the ‘Night’ is totally invented) cut his teeth working on child-friendly family comedies.
He actually co-wrote Stuart Little, the fun-filled CGI mouse caper that proved a box office hit (RT Score: 66). And the year before that flick landed, in 1998, his own directorial debut hit screens. Coming-of-age comedy Wide Awake starred Denis Leary and a young Julia Stiles in the tale of one ten-year-old boy’s search for God. Sadly, reviewers were less than enamoured with his budding efforts, and it flopped at the box office to boot (RT Score: 40).
1999 was to be a huge year for Shyamalan, however. For that was the moment when gripping supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense propelled him well and truly into the big-time: raking in more than $600 million, earning six Oscar nominations (including one for Best Director), and establishing a reputation for climactic twists that has dogged him ever since (RT Score: 84).
It seemed that the once light-hearted filmmaker had now found his winning formula: troubled, sad-eyed protagonist + past trauma, precocious kids and paranormal peril = unparalleled hype and success!
Indeed, the early Noughties proved a golden time for Shyamalan. Unbreakable, about a mild-mannered security officer who discovers he is actually an impossibly strong and resilient super-human, was a sublime spin on comic book origin convention, boasting another fine performance from Bruce Willis and the same heady balance of empathetic character drama and unsettling thrills that made Sixth Sense such a hit (RT Score: 68).
If anything, Signs was even better. An absorbing mediation on faith and family that presented an ingeniously intimate and claustrophobic vision of an alien invasion, it was thick with tension, genuinely touching and also boasted one of the greatest jump-scares in cinema history (RT Score: 74)
It was with The Village in 2004, unfortunately, that cracks started to appear. That insistence on ‘twists’ started to feel more and more like a gimmick; particularly when one was essentially lifted straight from Scooby Doo, and the other was completely preposterous. A great cast and intriguing premise were squandered on a story that failed dramatically to live up to expectations (RT Score: 43).
By Lady In The Water, it’s clear that Night had literally begun to lose the plot. A bizarre fantasy-drama that cast Shyamalan himself as a messianic saviour, and had an obnoxious film critic character meeting a very unpleasant end, it’s not hard to understand the accusations of self-indulgence and sour grapes that began to fly his way (RT Score: 24).
With 2008’s unintentionally hilarious The Happening, the wheels came off altogether. Probably one of the best bad movies ever made, it baffled viewers with its weird stilted dialogue, woeful mis-casting, and eyebrow-raising tale of suicide-by-shrub. Exhibit A: The scene where Marky Mark pleads with a potted plant. Exhibit B: “Cheese and crackers!” Exhibit C: That bit with the lions. We could go on through the whole ruddy alphabet (RT Score: 17).
Not content with that, it seems that Shyamalan decided to go one step further by crushing millions of childhood dreams through his cringe-inducing adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Taking the beloved kids TV series and turning into a jaw-dropping pile of tripe, the fact that it was so badly written and directed would be cruel enough. But it also spectacularly mis-represented the material’s much-liked characters – even mispronouncing some of their names (RT Score: 6).
The good news is, he kind of bounced back with trapped-in-an-elevator horror Devil in 2010 (RT Score: 52). The bad news is, he only produced and came up with the story concept, so we’re not going to count it.
No, redemption seems pretty far away for the fallen filmmaking darling at this point. As if to underline that fact, last year’s lambasted After Earth was one of the most reviled movies in memory – managing to apparently lobotomize Will Smith and spin a thoroughly ludicrous sci-fi yarn packed with nonsensical goings-on and dreadful CGI (RT Score: 11).
Sixth Sense earned 6 Oscar nods. After Earth garnered 6 Razzie nominations. Few directors have fallen from grace so spectacularly.
There are the tiniest suggestions that a dramatic upsurge in fortunes could be on the cards. Shyamalan is reportedly returning to his roots with new psychological thriller Sundowning, and re-teaming with lucky charm Bruce Willis for Labor Of Love.
Can harking back to his glory days save him? Based on his recent form, we reckon not.
WOW247 tip: Sell!