"I see dead people." Those words marked the coming of age of a bright and exciting director onto the American scene. Unfortunately, they would also mark the highlight of that director's career thus far. We're talking about M. Night Shyamalan.
What's frustrating about Mr. Shyamalan is that he showed such amazing potential in "Sixth Sense". I'll agree the film wasn't perfect, that it had a heavy handed approach at times, but so much promise was on display and there imagry was horrifying, with some moments that made one's heart race with terror. The scene where Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) looks up and sees the corpses hanging from the rafters is the stuff of nightmares. The moment where the young boy sits in a makeshift tent so that he won't have to look out and see the tortured face of a ghost, draws out the horror by making the audience feel his vulnerability. We suspect that it won't take much for a spectral hand to pull aside the security blanket and go BOO.
Shyamalan HAD America. While some would argue the stress of hoping to better himself was impossible to bear, I would say that it instead freed him to do something creative and experimental.
"Sixth Sense" was followed by "Unbreakable". A precursor of the tv show "Heroes" the film stars Bruce Willis as a regular schmoe discovering he is indestructible. And since a superhero must have a villian: Samuel Jackson plays the foil as a disabled man whose body is as fragile and as breakable as Willis' character is unbreakable.
The film worked. It was brilliant. But I think it affected Shyamalan. Where were the roses thrown at him for "The Sixth Sense"? Where were the adoring fans who rushed his car? How fickle. I think Shyamalan felt a sense of desperation. How to recapture the glory of "Sixth Sense?"
He tried getting the audience back with the messy "Signs." While a brilliant work of directing, the film itself is laughably bad. Its appalling plot shoved two glaring flaws that would ruin the film for the serious sci-fi fan: 1) why did the aliens need crop circles to navigate or mark their territory when they had the technology of space travel? and 2) why would intelligent critters who find water is poisonous to them set up shop on a planet which is mostly water? Stupid. "War of the Worlds" mangled and pureed
After "Signs" came the abomination that was "The Village". I could almost hear Shyamalan's desperation: "Okay, they loved the surprise ending in 'The Sixth Sense', that's what I need to win them back: surprise. Forget logic, forget good dialogue, forget good film-making...give them a surprise. The surprise, unfortunately was broadcast early in the film and when it finally came, the filmgoer felt cheated and abused.
So...the score at this point was two to two. A tie. Good, good...bad..wretched. Surely Shyamalan would stop the bleeding and return to his roots. Surely he would stop trying to write scripts and let someone else write for him. Shyamalan KNOWS how to direct. He just doesn't know how to write.
Enter: "Lady In The Water". A critical and commercial failure. A storyline that stumbles around while being buffeted by theme. Bruised and battered, this film is a mess. One feels that this film will surely keep the studios from giving Shyamalan the freedom he craves. He doesn't know how to handle his freedom.
Michael Bamberger in his book "The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M.Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale ", details the deterioration of Shyamalan as well as his deteriorating relationship with Disney. Shyamalan is obviously his own worst enemy. One quote which has been attributed to the director has him saying that Disney "no longer valued individualism ... no longer valued fighters." Saying this, he left Disney for Warner Brothers. Too bad for Warner Brothers.
One of the New York Post's critics, Lou Lumenick responded to this move and to the movie by saying Shyamalan had "turned into a crackpot with messianic delusions who's one more flop away from directing TV commercials." About the film itself: "A charmless, unscary, fatuous and largely incoherent fairy tale."
I agree. One flop away. Only I don't think it's a question. I think it's a done deal. Shyamlan will make his next disaster and then fall into obscurity. If he is lucky, he may have a chance at a comeback in the next several years. Maybe. Probably not.
So what is that next flop? That last drop into oblivion? Well, at one point there was discussion of him directing the next Indiana Jones film. According to the folks at TheRaider.net, that was dismissed by one of Shyamalan's press people, who said: "There was interest, but it just felt like they were trying to throw mud against the wall and see what stuck."
Another rumor, passed on by cinemablend.com, is that Shyamalan may have received some consideration for directing the next Harry Potter film. Obviously the rumor was sparked by the director's jump from Disney to WB, who churns out the Potter series.
So what is next? The fact that there is no actual word is significant. I will bet that whatever project emerges that 1) It will have a surprise ending 2) It will feature a strong romantic element with subtexts of faith 3) that it will have numerous archetypes at the forefront and finally 4) That it will be the final nail in Shyamalan's cinematic coffin.