One of the auteurs of the thriller genre has got to be M Night Shyamalan. From his grounded superhero sagas to alien stories, the filmmaker continues to surprise and reinvent the genre he is tackling with every new film he directs. Sure, his adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender does not rank among his best but even then, one bad film in his 20-year filmography is very impressive. As you can tell, I am an M Night Shyamalan defender. He remains one of the few filmmakers that make personal stories about grief, trauma, and abandonment into something somber and for a crowd. Before his latest film, Old releases this Friday; let’s discuss some of his best work.
5. The Happening
M Night at his most campy and pulpy. The Happening may be his most ridiculous concept yet but that is what is so great about it. It is the filmmaker creating unease through absurdist comedy and many not realizing it. Sure, it has an outlandish twist but that is the point, he creates unease and fear from the audience through quirky dialogue. How audiences do not find fun out of this but laugh at the MCU’s bland and unfunny banter continues to surprise me.
The second entry in M Night’s “Eastrail 177” trilogy and his second return to the horror genre after the critical and commercial success of The Visit. This is M Night at his most traumatic and fear-inducing. We witness the same kind of emotional trauma Anya Taylor Joy’s Casey has like Kevin Wendell Crumb. James McAvoy is sensational here, bringing one of the most terrifying performances in the genre in the last decade. Split is a haunting, terrifying, and brutal psychological horror film that has a better setup to any sequel than any of the MCU installments put together.
M Night at his career where he captures the magic of filmmaker Steven Spielberg. A film about the discovery of aliens all told through a rich family dynamic and a wonderful allegory of the attacks of September 11th. M Night has the basis of the unknown and uses it perfectly when defining the twist in the film’s third act. Easily, Mel Gibson’s best performance to date, at times seeming to be otherworldly like the film.
The final installment in the “Eastrail 177” trilogy, everything from Unbreakable and Split coming together in a perfect finale. M Night is at his most emotionally rich, willing to give these characters an ending they respectfully deserve. Sure, Unbreakable is talked about in the reigns of spectacular superhero films but I would go a step further and say this defies expectations and subverts them. M Night does not care about a finale being a grand battle amongst characters, he develops the character writing of everyone involved and makes the story feel somber, and makes the final battle more emotional and depressing. It is a slow burn in the best way possible.
1. The Village
M Night at his most depressing and strange. The Village captures the feeling of not being able to trust the closest around you in a small community. Shyamalan uses the style of storytelling of mise-en-scene where we are unclear of the events preceding the film and are forced to take a ride with these villagers. All the boiling hot tension is alleviated by its mind-blowing twist that’ll rock audiences to the core.