From the Delusional & Egotistical Mind of M. Night Shyamalan
by Marco Cerritos
September 17, 2010
The supernatural thriller Devil opens in theaters today and the promotional push has been excessive. TV spots and trailers showcase what appears to be a B-movie good time. The flick is directed by brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle but judging from the aforementioned promotional campaign you'd never know it. The only name front-and-center is that of the film's producer and master showman: M. Night Shyamalan.
To be fair, Shyamalan is a brand and the Dowdle Brothers are hardly household names - they're primarily known for the unnecessary horror remake Quarantine. But at a time when Shyamalan's reputation is more toxic than ever, is it the best decision to promote a movie based on his name? The truth is Universal (the studio behind the movie) may not have a choice.
It's no secret that M. Night Shyamalan (whose real name is Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan) has been drunk with power for the last several years. The early promise of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable was later questioned with the uneven Signs and The Village (Wide Awake also counts to a certain degree). This finally resulted in the triple feature disaster of Lady in the Water, The Happening and this summer's The Last Airbender. As someone who forgave the third act twists of Signs and The Village, even I couldn't look past these last three films which seemed to be career suicide from a once promising storyteller.
The trouble looks to have started in 1999 with the praise of The Sixth Sense and everyone ready to kiss Shyamalan's ass. His first and previous film Wide Awake had suffered through a troubled production at Miramax so to have his second feature score such accolades was a true breakthrough. It's not hard to imagine that when critics and audiences are hailing you as the second coming of movies, some of that praise might go to your head. Or a lot of it might go to your head in Shyamalan's case, resulting in full creative freedom and nobody questioning your work. Ever. Even if it sucks.
There's no denying the detailed craftsmanship of The Sixth Sense as it proves to be one of the best modern-day horror films. Unbreakable is a slow-burn superhero story that enthralls for 98% of its running time. It's abrupt ending is a distraction but can be argued that it's done on purpose to set up sequels (more on that later). Signs is another exercise in suspense and character building but even the most adamant fan of that film cannot escape its nonsensical ending. After all the Shyamalan hype, this proves to be the first real chink in his armor.
The Village has serious story issues but despite the hate is a strong and atmospheric film. This is also the first time audiences seem to be openly disappointed with a Shyamalan film, especially the ending this time. Lady in the Water was Shyamalan's "bedtime story" and boy did it put people to sleep. From a stuttering Paul Giamatti (Kevin Costner almost played the role) to a confused-looking Bryce Dallas Howard, Shyamalan had finally gone off the deep end and hasn't returned since.
The obvious question is if Shyamalan is so bad why does he keep making movies? The obvious answer is because his movies keep making money. Believe it or not, as terrible as The Happening and The Last Airbender were, they both turned a profit. This plays to the golden rule of Hollywood, quality doesn't matter as long as it makes money. In other words they will stop making them when they stop making money. Kind of like the Saw movies.
Despite the negative tone of this article I'm actually rooting for Shyamalan to get out of his rut. I miss the creative storyteller he used to be and feel he can return to those glory days but not without some tough love first. It's rumored that after The Village's poor reception, Disney (Shyamalan's longtime home at that point) passed on Lady in the Water because they found it too weird and offered creative suggestions. This forced him into a deep depression which resulted in lots of tears and self-doubt (which was chronicled in Michael Bamberger's book The Man Who Heard Voices). If the guy is truly that sensitive and self-delusional over a few notes it's no wonder he thinks he's God's gift to cinema.
I feel like as an audience member I'm suffering from battered wife syndrome. Shyamalan keeps kicking my ass with bad movies and I keep telling myself he'll return to form with the next one. Except he doesn't and kicks my ass even harder. The one card he could play that would get fans excited for an M. Night Shyamalan film again would be a sequel to Unbreakable. But what does he do? He announces that he's not only developing an indirect sequel to Unbreakable, but he's also not directing it either. That's a double slap in the face.
This brings us full circle to Devil, a movie that Shyamalan did not write or direct. It's the first project in the vainly titled series The Night Chronicles, a set of three films that are inspired by Shyamalan's own ideas. So when you see trailers touting Devil from "the mind of M. Night Shyamalan", just remember that for better or worse it's not entirely his film.
I feel this bears repeating because most people are confused and feel Devil IS written and directed by Shymalan. It's a piece of misdirection that Tim Burton used to his advantage with The Nightmare Before Christmas. To this day, 98% of people outside the film community I've spoken to about Nightmare believe Burton is the true director, not Henry Selick. I'm not comparing Shyamalan to Burton or the Dowdle Brothers to Selick but it just goes to show you how brands can sometimes help and hurt your film at the same time.
As you're reading this, Devil will be opening in theaters nationwide and the advance word-of-mouth is positive. There were no advanced screenings for press but that's par for the course these days when it comes to genre film. If Devil turns out to be successful (its small budget almost guarantees that it will), here's hoping Manoj Shyamalan is able to take some time off and find some humility. It's not a good sign when you're a national joke people are actively rooting for your demise. Then again his ultimate twist could be that he was dead the whole time.
Follow me on Twitter at @bigdumbmale - more film commentary on FS.net coming soon!
Reader Feedback - 29 Comments
Devil probably has positive reviews because he didn't write or direct it...
nelson on Sep 17, 2010
"positive reviews"? I must've missed those...
norm on Sep 17, 2010
The problem isn't Shyamalan. The problem is everyone who thought he was a genius to begin with. He's just doing what every director is doing - trying to make a good film. I hope people learn not to get so excited the next time a new director comes out with a solid first film.
Paul on Sep 17, 2010
the critics hate him but the general audience still likes him. Otherwise his movies wouldn't make a lot of money at the box office.
mike on Sep 17, 2010
watch THE SIXTH SENSE again. You really think that is good? BAH!
Chrisbo on Sep 17, 2010
Honestly, I'm appalled by the animosity towards Shyamalan. Like any other artist, movie-makers have no obligation to please the majority, or anyone for that matter (as long as they're willing to face the financial/social consequences). And it's absurd to expect them to. I doubt there's anyone here who doesn't like some cult film that most everyone else disliked or hated. And that's the way it should be. I pity anyone who only enjoys majority-approved films. If a film comes out and you don't like it, too bad! Whether the filmmakers wanted the work to come out that way or not, it is what it is. But you can be sure that someone, somewhere has the complete opposite opinion and there's no objective scale to make yours any more legitimate. It's pathetic to pretend like such a scale exists just because you've got the angry mob on your side. I'm not afraid to say that Shyamalan remains one of my favourite filmmakers and storytellers, and I hope he keeps doing what he's doing. And I couldn't care less if I'm the only one who loves his work. By the way, I saw Devil last night and thought it was pretty good but not great (not that I expect anyone to take a Shyamalan fan like myself seriously). Would have been better with Shyamalan at the helm 😛
zzz on Sep 17, 2010
I just saw Devil and while it wasn't a bad film, it was severely lacking as a supernatural thriller. It felt like a made for TV movie and the ending just flat out sucked. On the other hand, The Town is one of the best films of 2010 by far. The shootouts were some of the best I've seen since Heat.
Dom on Sep 17, 2010
He has great ideas he just needs someone to edit them. He is also terrible at directing actors. Hence his great movies have lead actors that need no directing (Willis, Gibson, etc).
The Dude on Sep 17, 2010
I'm pretty tired of these "character assassination" pieces. I was hoping for more than speculative stuff like Night thinking he's "God's gift to cinema". Perhaps Night has added his name to Devil to give it more recognition, in a similar manner to Peter Jackson elevating the profile of Neill Blomkamp's 'District 9'? As noted in the article, he is a brand. At the moment, that might not be a particularly good brand but still, a brand which has some box office pull. I don't see adding his name to Devil as a selfish, egotistical move, although it is probably ill-advised following his succession of critically mauled features. More directly toward Marco: why did you spell out Night's full/real name? Will you refer to Nicholas Cage as Nicholas Coppola from now on? Or Martin Sheen as Ramon Estevez?
saamFG on Sep 17, 2010
Have to disagree about "Signs". The ending wasn't non-sensical in the framework of the movies theme. I put "Signs" right up there with The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable". All three of the previous films were produced by Disney. When he walked in with the script for "Lady in the Water", they told him it sucked, re-write it, and he flipped out and left Disney. Although I'm not a huge Disney fan, they were right. It's been down hill since.
Trip on Sep 17, 2010
I liked Unbreakable, Sixth Sense, The Village and Lady in the Water. In Signs the bit where they they find out you can kill the aliens with water is stupid, in a planet that is 70% water and often has water falling from the sky, why even bother invading? The Happening was the reason I found this site, I watched it and had to vent my disgust with how crap it was, hence the name Crapola. That was just stupid, it should have been a comedy then it would have been fine. Although the trailer was good. Last Airbender was alright but pretty jumbled considering he had the story already. Everyone has total shitbombs in their life at least he's taken risks making some movies that have worked out. But The Happening was shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit. And Signs just a bit daft. The Village could quite easily be a film about the Amish with a bit of fairy tale thrown in, which made it reasonably feasible. I hope to see Devil soon so will come back with an opinion on that as soon as I do.
Crapola on Sep 17, 2010
The ending to Signs was not the aliens being killed by water, the entire alien plot was the "MacGuffin". The ending was Mel Gibson regaining his faith... I'm so sick of the water argument. Watch the movie again.
Trip on Sep 17, 2010
I agree with those that state M.Knight can't direct actors. That's so true. All you have to do is watch Mark Wahlberg in The Happening, or Mel Gibson in Signs. Gibson walks like a robot through most of the film - nobody walks like that in real life. It was like Gibson was forced to improv most of the time. His ideas can be fresh and unique, but apart from Sixth Sense, his execution flat out sucks.
tEDDY bESS on Sep 17, 2010
Signs is an awesome movie my personal favorite Shyamalan film. The Happening and Lady in the Water are his worst I haven't seen Airbender but everyone I know thinks its the worst film this year. The fact is he's a mediocre talent who thinks he's on par with the likes of Nolan and Fincher. He isn't a bad writer/director he just isn't one of the greats.
CLAW on Sep 17, 2010
Mel Gibson needs to stay away from Jesus, it's messed him up good style.
Crapola on Sep 17, 2010
I've never disagreed with the film-going public more. There is no doubt M. Night is insane- you can see it on the screen in Lady and Happening. BUT, that doesn't mean he's not a genuinely gifted artist. I have even caught friends of mine jumping on the hate wagon without even noticing it. When Airbender came out, a friend of mine screamed that M is shit, so I asked him which of his movies he had seen and which he hadn't. Turns out, he'd seen everything but The Happening... and liked every one. So, where does the hate come from? The generally cynical blogging world has jumped on him harder than anyone else. His twist endings lent themselves to being feverishly discussed on the Internet, thus a "George Lucas ruined my childhood" effect has happened with him. Just look at all the videos. They're not necessarily wrong, just lacking perspective. M no doubt went insane. He came out with a movie that rocked the world, was proclaimed "the new Hitchcock" and got final cut on everything. That DOESN'T happen. Fame went to his head and went unchecked. Trip- I couldn't agree more. The alien/water claim for Signs makes anyone who cares about movies sound superficial and just plain dumb. It was never about the water. It was never even about the aliens. Airbender should have never been done. No other TV show in history has been adapted straight. To take 10 hours of season 1 material and try to make it even 3 hours, would be mostly impossible. Plus, Airbender is one of the most unique and specific shows ever created. It should have never been adapted, but since it was, M showed some of his filmmaking chops, while it was a bad film. It has some beautifully crafted moments, tries to stick to a few themes of the show instead of all and I appreciated the in-camera special effects when we're constantly bombarded with CGI gob fests. Overall, it's a mess that should have never happened. Now Devil is not a good film. I saw it today and it's mostly a joke. But it is a fresh take on a worn concept, set in an interesting place and the 3rd act and twist worked for me. It failed for me on the whole, but I could see it working for others. Not a bad idea from "the mind of M. Night." Marco, I think this article lacks perspective and should have gone deeper into why and how a filmmaker makes the choices he does and less about fueling the fire that the Internet-savvy public has set to anything with his name attached. It is only young people who groan at the Devil trailer. EVERY director makes bad movies, and MANY directors never make a better film than M.'s worst. He has a strong, distinctive style, and it's always interesting to watch his art.
chrisg on Sep 17, 2010
Devil is a good movie.
Rashad on Sep 17, 2010
My take on it and it's been this same since The Village is that even though he may not make the best movies, he makes original movies. This is the problem with the movies these days. Everything has to be a brand, remake, or a book to be accepted. M constantly makes original movies and takes risks, and what does that get him? a terrible reputation. Moviegoers are just completely contradictory when I hear "Hollywood has run out of ideas"... well that's not true, the fact is the audiences aren't as accepting to a very creative persons visions. I will always back M. Night because even if I don't love a movie of his I will most likely appreciate the risk he takes. (Last Airbender not included in my arguement, I think everyone will agree that was completely out of left field)
Rob on Sep 17, 2010
I tend to forgive his every cinematic abortion after The Village,which I though was superbly done despite the lousy story and "ha,twist!".Then again,I walked out after a few minutes of The Happening and chose to skip Airbender,its obvious that people do expect him to come back with something good eventually,to call him a delusional nutjob,is in my opinion,taking it a bit too personally.
twipious on Sep 18, 2010
Wow...tell us what you really think. You guys aren't trying to conceal opinions are you?
Nick on Sep 18, 2010
I don't care what you think and what your bad opinion are about M. Night ... ! At least he have a style in writing and directing ... He is not duplicating others ... He is original ... and he have his way of making movies ... Every director have movies that is not high as the previews once ... and it is normal to happen ... ! There is no rules for such thing . As for : He can't direct actors !!! ... Oscar Nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Haley Joel Osment) Oscar Nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Toni Collette) Who direct them ???? I didn't watch his last movie ( The Last Airbender )... But I respect every movie he does until now ... And take a look to IMDb time to time please before writing some stuff without making a complete research : http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0796117/awards
shero on Sep 18, 2010
I think it's becoming fashionable to slam Shyamalan these past couple of years and in part it's been his own fault, but as it often is in life, people go either with black or white when reality is more gray than anything. All this talk of Shyamalan being 'done' and that he sucks and is terrible is ridiculous, that being said he's not the genius people have set him up to be. And there's the point: people have set him up to be these things, both a genius and a farce. People, not Shyamalan himself. We dont know what's on his mind, and most of these things we've read are nothing but rumors and hearsay, so to write things like "from the delusional and egotistical mind of.." sounds just plain meanspirited and biased. If someone can point me to some quote where Shyamalan says he's God's gift to cinema then maybe i'll change my opinion. The man is a great when it comes to the craft of movie making, no one can dany that without sounding foolish. Even duds like Lady in the water were impresivelly crafted. I think his problem lies in story structure and following through his ideas to a satisfying conclusion. The Village was a beautifully made film but the ending left a bad taste in many peoples mouth including my own. Lady in the Water was an interesting premise but shoddy storytelling execution and just too silly for the most part. But the film was exquisitely well crafted. Even the Happening had a interesting premise but the acting and the tone in some parts just made it hard to take seriously. Anyone who has worked in a creative field knows that it's difficult to balance the line between following your own creative instincts and knowing when to listen to others suggestions. There are times when you have to stick to your guns to make sure your creative vision makes it though undiluted, and there are times you have to be open to input to improve something, and it's really difficult to know when each of these applies. So what am I saying? Well, let's just cut the guy some slack. He's making movies, not curing cancer. People don't realize just how incredibly hard it is to make movies, and yet, it's only entertainment. The guy is a really talented filmmaker that's given us a few duds. I don't think that's deserving of the kind of vitriol a lot of people spew, including the headline of this article.
anon on Sep 18, 2010
Mr. Cerritos's articles are easily recognisible -- they are synical and they are biased. Instead of dig into why Shyamalan's movies are becoming less entertaining for the mainstream audiences, you start to blame Hollywood and its financing and go trough the movies only scathing the surface. Your arguments are just ramblings of a fan, who likes to talk bad about people just because he can.
Peter on Sep 19, 2010
"It's no secret that M. Night Shyamalan (whose real name is Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan) has been drunk with power for the last several years. /***/ Or a lot of it might go to your head in Shyamalan's case, resulting in full creative freedom and nobody questioning your work. Ever. Even if it sucks. /***/ If the guy is truly that sensitive and self-delusional over a few notes it's no wonder he thinks he's God's gift to cinema. /***/ Shyamalan keeps kicking my ass with bad movies and I keep telling myself he'll return to form with the next one. " -- is he really is one of the most unbiased writers you know? I have not seen any footage or read anything, where Shyamalan comes out as being "drunk with power". Yet again, it is insisted in the article that he is and not once is this view questioned. It is true that his recent films have not been a success, but to base this on the public opinion is not the best way of approaching a difficult topic like this. I admit that my comment was written out of frustration. I really do not want to attack anyone personally and I understand, that it is almost impossible to be completely unbiased, but I would like to see more effort put into these articles, especially if one gets paid for writing them (an assumption made upon "I hired Marco...").
Peter on Sep 19, 2010
#13 is a wise man.
reeft on Sep 19, 2010
"He has great ideas he just needs someone to edit them. He is also terrible at directing actors. Hence his great movies have lead actors that need no directing (Willis, Gibson, etc). The Dude on Sep 17, 2010" @The Dude, you just got it in one! The only thing that frustrates me on this whole issue is the fact that people really think he's someone who needs his career "saved"(!) He REALLY needs to re-evaluate his position as a director...
McQueen on Sep 19, 2010
did anyone else without reading the title think that was Jeff Goldblum? a younger slightly more tanner Goldblum?
Xerxex on Sep 19, 2010
haha @ Xerxex
zzz on Sep 20, 2010
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