Friday, July 21, 2006
You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world.
M. Night Shyamalan is an interesting cat. He's got an ego the size of his beloved Philadelphia the manifestation of which in interviews is grating. At the same time he's definitely somebody that's blessed with real talent- just not as an auteur, which is the role he's been assigned by Hollywood up to the release of "The Lady in the Water" today. Judging by the bad reviews of that film his role is about to change and that's a good thing as I see it.
The "Sixth Sense" was a great film the experience of which was somewhat lessened for me by a marketing campaign that promised a twist. When you go into a film expecting a twist it's usually not that hard to spot it fairly early on. The convention of film with the need to condense a story into 90 odd minutes makes the task springing a surprise ending on an audience practically impossible.
"Unbreakable" was also a solid movie and the only one of Shymalan's films I'd like to see a sequel to. It was about as realistic a depiction of what it would be like to have comic-book super powers as we're ever going to see. It wasn't a perfect film and there are moments that fortold Shymalan's weaknesses (an extended, pointless cameo by himself for one) but it was still better than most of the dreck that came out that year.
It was his next film "Signs" where things really began to run off the tracks. Pointless moralizing and amateur theology do not make a solid backbone for a film thematically. Forcing that theme down audiences' throats is usually not a good idea. Crowbarring that same theme into a film at the expense of HUGE plot holes is simply unforgivable. There are genuinely creepy moments in the film and great performances by Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix but none of that makes up for the film's overbearing conceit.
The thing is that every time I give up on the Shymalan the filmaker and tell myself he's a hack I remember that seen from "Unbreakable" that sends shivers up my spine just thinking about it. We're watching a flashback of the character "Mr. Glass" who is afflicted with a disease making his bones so brittle they break at the simplest the simplest contact. In the flashback the young Mr. Glass is waiting in line for a roller-coaster holding two enormous teddy bears. He gets onto the ride and positions the bears to each side to cushion himself during the ride then realizes the back of the seat is hard plastic so me moves a bear behind himself. Then he sees the metal bar...
This was done masterfully with an excellent sense of how to set up a scene and how to make an audience squirm. It wasn't the work of a hack. It was the work of a great DIRECTOR.
Which is why when I read reviews of his new film that begin, as the Seattle Post Intelligencer's did "M. Night Shyamalan's fairly disastrous new chiller..." it's a little bittersweet for me. I'm happy that it looks like Shymalan may have his first, real flop on his hands. Perhaps now he'll be forced to concentrate on what he's really talented at: directing. Directing something someone else has written.