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How Shyamalan Regained His Crown

December 21st, 2018How Shyamalan Regained His Crown

M. Night Shyamalan is back on top of the world. His new movie, GLASS, opening on January 18, is the culmination of a story the director began in the year 2000 — and it’s a film we never thought we’d see. Given the way his fortunes went for almost a decade, perhaps even Shyamalan didn’t think he’d ever get to make it.

The director was once called the successor to Steven Spielberg. His third movie, THE SIXTH SENSE, was a massive hit in 1999. It established Shyamalan’s love for surprising audiences with big twists. His next few films were similarly big successes, and then things started to change. Here’s how M. Night Shyamalan got his groove back.

The Fall

After a string of hits that pleased audiences and critics alike — THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS — there were signs of a slump. A string of movies, from THE LADY IN THE WATER to AFTER EARTH (above), showed the director falling away from his connection with audiences, and even away from the stuff that he seemed to love in movies in the first place. We’re not going to dwell too much on the years that were difficult for M. Night Shyamalan, because we’d rather celebrate his return.

Back to Basics

After a string of ever-bigger movies, the director made a smart turn back to small, focused stories. Actually, there was a pit stop before his first new movie following AFTER EARTH: The TV series WAYWARD PINES. Shyamalan acted as executive producer of the first season, and directed the pilot. The mystery series, based on novels by Blake Crouch, followed Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) as he investigated the disappearances of two other agents in a small Idaho town — in which he seems to be trapped.

Then came THE VISIT (above). The 2015 movie, which used a found-footage conceit, was about as focused as you can get. Two teen siblings visit their estranged grandparents, who harbor dark secrets. The low-key chiller was a solid success. It built a twist into an already freaky scenario, and Shyamalan’s direction and control of tone were a welcome change from the sprawling efforts of his previous few films.

The Triumphant Return

THE VISIT also set the stage for SPLIT, starring James McAvoy as Kevin Wendell Crumb, whose mind is fractured into dozens of personalities. We meet quite a few in the film, giving McAvoy the chance to play a wide range of characters — one of which, The Beast, is a monstrous, animalistic creature. Anya Taylor-Joy of THE WITCH played the film’s heroine. She gave SPLIT an energetic and emotional center while matching McAvoy’s intense acting style.

SPLIT also brought Bruce Willis’s character David Dunn, the hero of UNBREAKABLE, back to the screen. (Kevin Wendell Crumb is actually an evolution of a character created for UNBREAKABLE, but cut from the script before that movie was shot.) Dunn’s appearance at the end of SPLIT was one of the most pleasant movie surprises of 2017. The success of that movie ensured a bright future for GLASS — in which David Dunn and his UNBREAKABLE adversary Mr. Glass, played by Samuel L. Jackson, encounter one another once again.

In the new film, Dunn and Glass are confined to an institution along with Kevin Wendell Crumb and all his many personalities. When Glass provokes Crumb, he sets the stage for a showdown between all three men, with Anya Taylor Joy’s character caught in the middle. We don’t know how it works out, but can’t wait to see M. Night Shyamalan finish the story he started so long ago.

GLASS opens on January 18.

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