The career of M. Night Shyamalan has gone through two phases. First was the unnerving, heir-to-Hitchcock, nine-year run that began with 1999’s The Sixth Sense and ended with ’08’s The Happening, and which also included Unbreakable (’00), Signs (’02 — arguably his best), The Village (’04) and Lady in the Water (’06).
Then came a less exacting, somewhat more desperate phase in which he started pandering to genre-friendly popcorn audiences rather than make films with his own unique stamp. Like everyone else I had issues with M. Night’s phase #1 films, but at least they seemed to come from a place inside his own creative soul, which is more than you can say for his phase #2 output.
Shyamalan has cranked out five phase #2 films over the last eight years, including his upcoming Glass (Universal, 1.18.19). The Last Airbender (’10) was a critical disaster; ditto After Earth (’13) with Will Smith and his son Jaden. I didn’t even pay attention to The Visit (’15), a found-footage thing. Nor did I catch Split (’16), a sequel to Unbreakable in which James McAvoy played a psychotic superhuman beast named Kevin Wendell Crumb.
Now comes Glass, another Unbreakable flick (third in a trilogy) with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reprising their David Dunn and Mr. Glass roles, and joined by the persistent McAvoy plus Anya-Taylor Joy (victim) and Sarah Paulson (psychiatrist).
I know it’s hard to stand alone and make films with your own specific flavor and worldview, and that everyone has to adjust to changing tastes and currents and, you know, get along with moronic studio execs. But I yearn for the days when “directed by M. Night Shyamalan” meant “directed by an eerie auteur who for better or worse makes his own kind of movie, and who brings a certain signature and personality to the table.”