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Plot Twist: After Years of Making Cinematic Poop, I’m an M. Night Shyamalan Fan Again


Think about a movie that influenced you. A movie that changed the way you viewed movies forever. From the moment you saw it, you knew it would be the standard which you judged other movies. Now, I know when most self-appointed film geeks name their most influential movies, they usually include something like 2001, Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver, yaddi yaddi yadda.

I can name two movies that are pretty unconventional within the context of this question. They were both released in 1999.

The first movie that changed my outlook was The Matrix. I didn’t know a sci-fi/action movie could be that. It’s an action movie that kicks major ass but still strikes a deep conversation about control and reality. The other movie is The Six Sense. This movie did something I’ve seen before. It told you the twist before you even saw the movie, dangled it your face the entire time, and still left you hanging. For the first time in my very short life, I knew a director by name. I paid attention to a style and tone.

M. Night Shyamalan’s follow-up, Unbreakable, was released a year later. Although I liked this movie, I was still chasing the high provided by The Sixth Sense so it didn’t blow me away.

This past Friday, I hit the skid of work where all the accumulated fatigue of the workweek drops on me like a sack of bricks and I don’t feel like doing anything for the remainder of the day.

I stumbled upon a podcast featuring Ta’Neihisi Coates discussing Black Panther (good listen, btw)

Unbreakable was brought up and it made me ponder, why have I only watched this movie once? How does it hold up today?

I admit, I had no desire to revisit Unbreakable over the years because of the bad taste left in my mouth M. Night Shyamalan movies.

The Village? Terrible.

Lady in the Water? That’s a no for me, dawg.

The Happening? LMAO!

The Last Airbender? I didn’t even watch the show but this movie still managed to piss me off.

[Devil goes here and while I don’t remember much of this movie, it didn’t look too bad during my “Redbox and chill” session *wink, wink*]

And I learned my lesson by the time After Earth and The Visit so I haven’t watched them and I don’t plan on it.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

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So the same day, I decided to watch Unbreakable, because I have nothing better to do with my Friday night, right?

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Surprisingly, the movie has aged well. Not only was it as good as I remembered, I liked it even more than I did back then. This movie shows what it would be like if the average Joe had superpowers. There wouldn’t be shiny suits or “Hero Day” with the mayor; his wife would be making him sleep in the guest bedroom. He’d be struggling to pay bills. The moral compass wouldn’t be pointing north because he’d be too busy trying to stay out of the public eye to even care.

Although this movie is a superhero movie, it focused on humanity. That was one of my favorite motifs. The tone and direction, in general, are probably better than The Sixth Sense, which I thought I loved more until now. I also forgot the remarkable score this movie had, or maybe I was just too young to pick up on it.

Doesn’t that just sound like superhero music?

I do remember being annoyed by the ending. It was revealed that Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Mr. Glass, was searching for someone at the end of the spectrum. He wanted an arch-nemesis/hero relationship. Cool idea, but it always seemed like a “we ran out of ideas” ending. Even with the abrupt and unresolved conclusion, it’s still one of my favorite superhero origin movies. The narrative structure resembles comic book story arcs, bold colors are used to identify “bad guys”, and oh yea, did I mention the score?

Anyway, this movie made me erase M. Night Shyamalan’s history and I decided to give Split a try. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this movie but wasn’t really in a rush to check it out.

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The road to hell is paved with M. Night Shyamalan’s good intentions to make a clever movie. All of his movies are great ideas on paper (Yes, even The Happening). The devil lies in the details, though. His fatal flaw, with most of his movies, is getting too self-indulgent. He takes a good idea and rambles on without focusing on the strengths of the story.

Split eliminates most of these problems. 75% of the movie is James McAvoy talking to kidnapped girls locked in a basement, that’s as simple as it gets. I’ve already stated my love for 10 Cloverfield Lane, so a movie this simplistic is right up my alley. The premise is interesting but it isn’t bogged down with half-assed ideas. Shyamalan’s scripts are usually longer Bill Wither’s last note on “Lucky Day” and they all lead up to a “twist”. Usually, not worth the effort it takes to watch the movie but Split gets right to the point. The one wrinkle he does add in ends up working out because you get to see the progression over the movie. Three of his personalities conspire to take over his body and a 24th is introduced: a supernatural, ceiling climbing being referred to as The Beast.

I saw endless tweets about how the end of this movie was crazy. I totally expected The Beast to run into the woods and end up in a 19th Century village. Or maybe even jump off a building because plants can talk to each other and a dandelion told him to do so. But no, The Beast escapes then the movie ends. Or…at least I thought so. After the credits and title card, there’s  a scene in a diner. Everyone is watching the news. A lady looks up and says “He’s like that guy who did that thing 15 years ago, what was his name?” and the camera closes in on Bruce Willis. “Mr. Glass,” he says.

WHAT!!!!!?! (This is 11 year old me resurfacing again)

After a brief hiatus on the Shyamalan train, I’m all in now. If you asked me two weeks ago if I wanted an M. Night Shyamalan extended universe, I would have told you no and called the FBI on you because you’re clearly a terrorist. But now? I’m pretty excited.

This is a return to the days when I used to get lost in my own imagination. I used to read beyond the panels of my favorite comic book and conjure up my own stories. Unbreakable didn’t have a substantial impact on my life initially, but it always interested me because it was an everyday man superhero story based in “the real world”. It answered a lot of the questions I had about a world where heroes lived among us in the shadows.

I wouldn’t be hype for an Unbreakable sequel if Shyamalan didn’t stick his landing with Split. No superhero is complete without a good villain, so why not have Kevin Dunn (Bruce Willis) matched up against The Beast and his horde? This movie was a very clever way to revisit an old idea but add another layer to it. Also, Mr. Glass is surely still around. What is he up to these days? Will these two villains come together? I hope the sequel to Unbreakable answers my questions once again.

Moral of the story is that you should definitely revisit movies that you saw at a young age. Don’t let anyone shame you for staying in on a Friday night to watch movies. And most importantly,  give people second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances because they MIGHT make a good movie after striking out repeatedly.

So after all of these years, M. Night Shyamalan served me the biggest plot twist ever: I’m a fan again. Dammit.

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