It’s a pretty spectacular feat for one director to be responsible for one of the best movies of the last 10 years and to have also made, in that same time span, one of the absolute worst movies … maybe ever. M. Night Shyamalan is the lucky man to hold that distinction. It seems like forever ago, but in 1999 he blew away the world with The Sixth Sense, a movie that annoying people everywhere still claim to have known the secret to even though they didn’t. But the secret was not even the point. It was brilliant filmmaking that nearly everyone was impressed by and enjoyed. Even watching it today, it is still moving and powerful.
On the other hand, it was just a few weeks ago when sitting in the theater for another film that a trailer for “The Happening” ran. The crowd sat quietly at attention until the words “from the director of The Sixth Sense” appeared on the screen. Then they broke out into laughter, because the very name of that same director–the one who had wowed them all those years ago–has turned into a punch line.
His films since The Sixth Sense, while visually interesting, began to pack less and less of a punch until his masterpiece of futility, The Village. This was a movie with a “surprise twist” that was so stupidly obvious, I guessed at it 30 minutes into the film, and then dismissed it out of hand as too absurd for even the hackiest of hacky film students. It’s a truly horrible film. But the question is … is any film crime truly unforgivable?
Take his name off The Happening, and I would probably not be talking about it now. It looks like a serviceable Steven King-style mystery that is potentially interesting, but utterly forgettable. Add his name back on and you get derisive sneers. You are guaranteed to get a movie that is not what it seems, but what it truly is, is certain to be awfully disappointing. And yet …
The Sixth Sense was so good that some small part of me believes he can do it again. That part of me wants him to do it again. Then I look at the reviews–almost unanimously negative–for The Happening and think “no way.” The good M. Night Shyamalan is gone forever. And yet …
I’m still drawn to it. Part of me needs to see it, needs to know for myself that he’s gone and not coming back. I need to see the disaster unfold, so I can fully appreciate the director’s collapse and failure.
After all this time, those two movies are still competing for Shyamalan legacy. Without The Sixth Sense, I would never consider seeing The Happening. Without The Village, I would never consider missing it. Which one shows the true level of his talent? That’s the really mystery and though most people have already made up their minds, I still haven’t figured that one out yet. (Although, I could be swayed by Zooey Deschanel. She’s the real deal.)
The Hulk, on the other hand, I have figured out. That’s actually getting good reviews, and I still don’t care. The first one was just so wholly uninteresting, that I have no desire to test the waters again; Edward Norton or no. Even with a cameo by Iron Man Downey Jr., I maybe Marveled out by now. How about you?