so let’s begin with the obvious point about m night shyamalan
it’s popular to do him down
so much so that it’s easy to forget how much ‘the sixth sense’ appeared as a remarkable eruption of new talent – a film that managed to get pretty much everything right. and while my mum did predict the twist about 40 minutes in, i think she’s in a tiny minority. that film was an elegant piece, that defined ‘thriller’ as something more than just a mystery story, but one which actually engaged my emotions, and made me think about life and love. and how bruce willis can bring it to the table when he has the right material and director.
‘unbreakable’, the follow up, which philip french in the observer newspaper rightly described as representing the reason why shyamalan’s style – more than any other contemporary director – deserves to be called ‘hitchcockian’, was about the inner turmoil of a superhero. it’s the anti-hancock, and has more drama and reflective pathos than any of the other recent superspiderhulkxman movies you could pick.
‘signs’ showed signs indeed of shyamalan’s possibly simplistic worldview (which seems to be a variation of ‘everything happens for a reason’ or something like that) , but still managed to be a terrifically entertaining ‘bad things lurking outside your window’ story. and – this is the key to appreciating his work – showed an increasing mastery of film grammar, camera movement, editing, and knowing how to make an audience feel something.
‘the village’, which has caused its fair share of arguments among friends, was almost universally denounced, although i happen to think it’s a masterpiece, and i use that word very rarely. two things come to mind: this film dares to take seriously the implications of the language used around 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’ to propose that the consequences of political fear-mongering will ultimately include the death of your own children – and perhaps this idea is simply too horrifying to absorb; secondly, i think critics confused this film with another genre. they thought that because it was shyamalan, and because it was scary, that that made it a horror film, when actually it’s one of the most moving love stories i’ve ever seen.
i’ll get to ‘lady in the water’ and ‘the happening’ later – for now, let the record show, i think the best way to understand m night shyamalan is to think about him the way philip french used to: he is trying to make hitchcock films. whether or not he is succeeding is not the point – actually, the more interesting question, for me, is whether or not hitchcock is as profound as he is usually assumed to be.