The M Night Shyamalan ready reckoner

From Sixth Sense through to The Happening, we put the career of one of Hollywood's most fascinating talents under the microscope...

The Happening: M Night Shyamlan's low point to date?

When M Night Shyamlan burst onto the scene at the end of the 1990s with his megahit The Sixth Sense, it kicked into a life a career that would, until recent times, give Hollywood some of its most intriguing hits. Here, our ready reckoner picks up the story…

The Sixth Sense

4 out of 5
Great ending or otherwise, The Sixth Sense is a very good piece of cinema. Touched with diligently directed moments, and powered by a trio of good performances – Bruce Willis, the terrific Haley Joel Osment and the underrated Toni Collette – it’s an involving, layered and genuinely creepy film, and one that holds up very, very well. It’s also proof that MNS can both write a strong script, and deliver on it from behind the camera…

Stuart Little

2 out of 5
Back in the writer-for-hire days, MNS co-penned this twee, gentle piece of family entertainment that inexplicably went on to be a huge hit. It was bettered by its commercially less successful sequel (that Shyamalan didn’t pen), and genially goes from A to B doing nobody any harm whatsoever.


4 out of 5
Save for an unnecessary desire to explain as much as possible in double quick time at the end, Unbreakable is a film that demonstrates a bang-on marriage of confidence, talent and restraint. Bruce Willis again gives a strong leading performance as the man who walks from the scene of a major fatal accident untouched, while Samuel L Jackson is excellent too as his foil, a man whose bones are literally very breakable indeed. The interplay between the two is the film’s strength, and this is arguably M Night Shyamalan’s best film to date.

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3 out of 5
Hmmm. The moment where it started to go off the rails a little bit. Redeemed by some chillingly directed moments (and it’s proof that few can give you the creeps and ratchet up tension like MNS), this otherwise borderline-batty tales of crop circles, tin foil and interwoven family issues is uneven, and nowhere near as tight as MNS’ previous efforts. It was a huge hit, and has a couple of good jumps, plus some of the family material works very well. But it’s still a muddled film.

The Village

3 out of 5
The one that divided the crowd. Personally, I liked The Village more than Signs, but it’s a very slow hike for the most part. Some of the direction here, though, is downright brilliant, and the paranoia that underpins much of the writing is a fair reflection of the point where it was made. The ending is tricky, though. Again, I really liked it, but accept the point that it’s more of a yah-boo-sucks finale, as opposed to something that’s been cleverly built up to. A film that’s seemingly set to be debated for some time to come…

Lady In The Water

3 out of 5
Shyamalan makes an unpopular and unbelievably committed descent into whimsy in this tale of a condominium which has a resident ‘narf’ – a mythical aquatic creature played by Bryce Dallas-Howard, who seeks the protection of the residents from the equally mythical ‘scrunt’ that is pursuing her. Paul Giamatti plays it very real in a world that is very unreal, and LitW is one you will either love or hate; a fantastical scary fairy story which eschews cynicism for a naked sense of wonder. -Martin AndersonThe Happening
1 out of 5
Good grief. A lumbering shambles of a film, where MNS fails both with his bizarre screenplay, and impatient direction. One or two moments work, but they’re like survivors crying out for help in the midst of what otherwise is genuinely a cinematic disaster. Mark Wahlberg gives quite possibly the worst lead performance in a summer blockbuster movie for many, many years. Some achievement: we saw Planet of the Apes. It’s so horribly contrived, from every news bulletin commencing when the radio or TV is turned on, and pretty much every scene has the harried feel of an audition rather than a finely honed sequence from an undoubtedly talented directed. The final runtime of 90 minutes hints at some savage editing room work, and there are things at times so out of place that you hope that’s the case.

While The Happening made more money that Lady In The Water, all eyes now surely shift to the upcoming The Last Airbender, due in 2010. Right now, studio executives are all too aware that a hit MNS movie tends to be neither expensive nor particularly high maintenance. Three straight disappointments, though, and the phone calls may start drying up…

Agree? Disagree? Head to the comments. And check out the rest of our regular Ready Reckoners by hitting the button below…

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