Picking New Directors For Shyamalan Movies
This is going to sound meaner than intended, but I don’t enjoy M. Night Shyamalan’s directing. He’s got a fair number of fans, but most of his movies are met with harsh criticism. The problems don’t exist in his visual style, but his scripts and how he directs actors to deliver the material. If there’s one thing I think Shyamalan does well is pitch an idea. His elevator pitches all sound brilliant. Each movie can be summed up in a single, intriguing line. They’re similar to The Twilight Zone that way.
So if I like his ideas, but don’t enjoy his directing style, who do I think would do well with these ideas?
THE SIXTH SENSE
Quite a few people would consider this blockbuster spookfest the high water mark for Shyamalan, it never worked for me. Prior to the twist ending, I was feeling bored enough to consider leaving the cinema. I’ve always been of the feeling that if removing a twist leaves a complete film and story, then it’s not a good twist. Instead we’d be interested in seeing the pioneer of 1980’s PG family films that toed the line of being to dark tackle this one. At heart, this is a movie about a child, and the innocence of childhood coming to an end of a common motif for Dante.
This is the one Shyamalan film I did enjoy, but I don’t think it’s reflective of comics in the modern zeitgeist. Even then, I think Shyamalan had some big revelations about comic narrative that weren’t a revelation to comic readers. If this was a modern movie, the Russo’s or Lord and Miller would be ideal. For the time of release, Tim Burton would have an interesting take. He’d set the tone for comic book movies for the proceeding decade. With Hollywood moving away from the trend he set, Burton could provide a final comment in a unique deconstruction.
We originally picked Denis Villeneuve for this, leaning on the concept of alien communication. That’s not the right tone for the movie, this isn’t a movie about awe. It’s a movie that should inspire creeping dread. For that we need to modern master of horror and suspense, Mike Flanagan. The feeling of horror given to home invaders and disgruntled ghosts would work a treat with those aliens.
It’s with The Village that we see the cracks in Shyamalan’s approach starting to widen and consume the story. The premise of a 19th century village that keeps its population isolated under threat of unknown monsters could make a great mystery. The only thing people remember it for is the unnecessary twist where it’s revealed that the village exists hidden in the modern day. The base premise on it’s own would well suit Eggers’ haunting period films.
LADY IN THE WATER
Here’s a title that pokes some big holes in the notion that the core concepts of Shyamalan’s movies are solid. This is weird from the ground up. I always got the impression that Lady was intended to be in the vein of classic Spielberg movies. And there’s no-one in modern cinema who most seeks to emulate that style with a fresh perspective than Abrams. He’d have a ball with all that Mystery Box nonsense.
This could arguably be the point where public perception of Shyamalan and his unique style started to noticeably shift into the negative. A new generation of audiences was finding his storytelling a little…silly. Not that silliness couldn’t make for a fun horror movie, as Slaxx delivered a fun movie about evil pants with a good message. When it comes to putting the message before the story, and teasing out the mystery, we need Jordan Peele. It could’ve been an episode of his The Twilight Zone reboot.
Ok, so it wasn’t directed by Shyamalan. Instead it was by John Erick Dowdle. M. Night’s fingerprints are all over it though, it’s one of his movies through and through. Maybe that’s why it’s a bit more fun that his usual filmography. James Wan could’ve really run with this concept though, and he’s skilled at pacing out a single room mystery.
THE LAST AIRBENDER
Earning the dubious distinction of holding Shyamalan’s lowest Rotten Tomatoes score, and being generally considered one of the worst adaptations of all time. The immensely well critically received and beloved Avatar franchise had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster, but Shyamalan’s take on the material left the audience confused, disappointed and sometimes even angry (although Aang would never want that). Favreau has not only shown an ability to create excellent family films that challenge younger viewers, but sees the importance of finding the true essence of the source material. If anyone can balance the effects work, get good performances from younger actors and keep things true to the spirit of the original, it’s this guy.
I need to confess that I haven’t seen this movie and only know it by it’s rather dire reputation. If we want alien worlds that speak as metaphors for the human condition though then you want to guy who brought us Blade Runner and Alien.
One of the few times in recent film history that Shyamalan was ‘back’, this movie didn’t deliver much beyond the premise. A couple of kids go to stay with their grandparents, who they’ve never met or even seen. Except something seems…off. Making use of the cottage setting and the exaggerated grossness of the aging human body would be Sam Raimi, whose surreal body horror and semi-cartoon worlds would make this an uncomfortable delight.
Whether intentional or not, Split feels like a homage to the late 90s when much of the horror and thriller genre were taking their cues from David Fincher. Se7en was a hugely influential movie and spawned seemingly endless copycats. Bringing that style back to the genre with a shift in perspective to that of the victim would be a nice callback or evolution on his earlier work.
Actually, maybe just skip this one.
This most recent mess is almost the definitive intriguing concept hampered by terrible direction. A group of people get trapped on a beach that greatly accelerates the ageing process. So many questions right off the bat, so many better ways it could have gone. Rather than explanations and twists, we needed to explore the fears surrounding ageing and death. We can tie it all into an overall reason, but that reveal shouldn’t be the thought that stays with us. In between Hereditary and Midsommar, he can absolutely make us shift uncomfortably in our seats.