Susan Year Itch: My Favorite Director, M. Night Shyamalan

Sure, some directors these days are still doing exciting, groundbreaking things, but sometimes it just feels better to sit back and enjoy the train wreck that is M. Night Shyamalan. I propose the creation of an achievement award for a guy who, if nothing else, has learned how to be consistent.

Back in the 1960s, a really influential guy named Andrew Sarris wrote a book that helped steer the U.S.S. Film Theory into clear, organized waters. In this text, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, Sarris unpacked the still-new idea of auteur theory, which analyzes films on the assumption that truly great directors are authors of their films in the same way that writers are authors of books.* The true auteurs were put into the Pantheon, Sarris’s first tier of 100% rad directors, who all had to meet various criteria of radness in order to make the cut. Hitchcock, Hawks, Chaplin, Lang, Keaton, Welles…these dudes made it into the upper echelon, but others fell into second and third tiers.

Since 1968, though, we’ve been cultivating a different kind of pure director. Perhaps the ratio of purely genius directors to career movie hacks is a little more disheartening than it was during the Golden Age of Hollywood, but to me, there’s one thing we’ve got going for us in the early part of this century. Sarris, legend as he is, failed to take into account the pure artistry of a director that has honed his or her skills into the consistent delivery of mass disappointment. Obviously, the Oscar for that very specific category goes to Hollywood Enigma M. Night Shyamalan.

No seriously, think about it! It’s hard to come up with anything more impressive than a guy who turns out movie after movie that everyone hates, yet still is able to capitalize on his first film’s good reputation to score contracts to make even more despicable films! Not only that, this guy still intrigues everyone enough to cast respectable actors and sell respectable amounts of tickets! I don’t know about you, but I think that guy knows something I don’t.

It’s funny to joke that M. Night Shyamalan had someone else ghostwrite The Sixth Sense and then tried to go it alone for the succession of ridiculous follow-ups. But come on! It’s funniER to think that Nighty has a genius plan for us — think of our whole relationship with him as one big movie. Wouldn’t it be awesome if that big movie’s giant twist at the end involved us all expecting a film even more terrible than the last, and then we end up with a good one!?!? Best twist ever!

Either way, I almost went with the title, “My Least Favorite Director:….” but then I reflected a little (a practice Nighty himself might find helpful once in awhile). I realized, hey, I end up awarding each film a fraction of a star, but I certainly enjoy doing it. It’s almost a family tradition to catch every Shyamalan film in the theater, savor every laughable detail, try to be the first to predict the next line, and then of course re-enact the entire thing later over beers. There are plenty of terrible movies that don’t afford me any of that enjoyment. I certainly don’t gleefully anticipate Van Helsing 2. In fact, most bad movies end up hitting my Furious Frustration button, and the only beers involved are the ones I throw in the director’s face when I run into him or her on the street.**

So therefore, I’m shifting my thinking. On a level I’ve never considered, I really enjoy Shyamalan films, and the optimist in me would like to give that guy the credit for creating total rubbish purely for the sake of people like me. It’s the only thing I can think of that justifies the amount of money he probably has.

The following are Shyamalan films that I have had the privilege to mock and that I think you might enjoy mocking, too!

Unbreakable (2000)
A nod to comic book geeks, Unbreakable starts off with a good hook – Bruce Willis is in a horrible accident and comes out without a scratch because he is super strong AND has inexplicable mystic visions! Just like me that one time! OK, then there’s this other guy, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who, get this, is the exact opposite! He is fragile, both mentally and physically! There’s a comic book store and some embarrassing costumes, too.

TWIST: Bruce Willis’s character is actually a very tiny man inside a larger Bruce Willis suit, and when the suit comes off, Samuel L. Jackson realizes that we are all vulnerable, and that he should either get over it or get a man-suit himself.

Signs (2002)
A family lives in a house. Aliens come! One guy in the family failed at a hopeful baseball career. Well, guess what else a baseball bat is good for? Crushing alien skulls! A little girl that’s also there is really into drinking water. Guess what else water is good for? That’s classified.

TWIST: Under enormous social pressure, the aliens leave Earth after one of their leaders embarrassingly spouts anti-Mel Gibson statements during a DUI arrest.

The Village (2004)
Gosh, this one looked good in the previews, didn’t it? I thought for sure we were back on track. It even started well, depicting interesting folks in what appears to be a 17th century New England town or something, where everyone is named “Ivy” and “Lucius” and nobody goes out after dark for fear of the bad things beyond the village. These things are HORRIBLE, they wear cloaks and try to dismember you. They hate various colors, and you have to shine light on them — I forget, there’s a lot of rules. They are so horrible that when you find out what the deal is with them, you’ll dismember a couple people, too. With laughter?

TWIST: Unbeknownst to any of them, the people in the village are actually the cast of an opera set in historical New England, and the scary monsters are audience members in opera cloaks beyond their “borders” and blinded by the “stage lights.” Ed Harris looks on fondly from the orchestra pit.

Lady in the Water (2006)
Actually, I haven’t seen this one. I’ve been saving it for a rainy day. Reading the enraged Netflix member reviews with zero prior knowledge is one of my favorite sources of amusement. My sources tell me that it’s the worst one of all, but how could anything possibly be worse than…

The Happening (2008)
WHAT IS THE HAPPENING? OH I’LL TELL YOU WHAT IS THE HAPPENING! Seriously, though, everyone wants to kill themselves. Some sort of epidemic is spreading that causes people to become disoriented, walk backwards for a little while (I am not making this up!), and then grab the nearest thing handy that will allow them to end their own lives. Gruesome! Yet hilarious! Especially when their suicides involve hanging themselves from tall trees. Did they walk backwards to a hardware store for some ladders and rope? Did they disorientedly look up how to tie a noose on Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel add to the suspense by contracting a separate epidemic that causes people to forget all their acting skills — eerie!

TWIST: The entire movie is a sophisticated allegory for our times about the widespread diagnosis of clinical depression among Americans. It is also revealed that it is an acting exercise for Wahlberg and Deschanel on being directed to bore people to tears. Is is also revealed that whoever splices together clips for Shyamalan’s movie trailers is officially a better director than Shyamalan himself.

The Last Airbender (2010)
And then, this summer, The Last Airbender blows into town, and we’ll see how it goes. This one runs the exciting risk of walking on even thinner ice with me personally, as I have been told repeatedly by my friends to stop my infernal gushing about the show on which the film is based. Not only does he tread upon hallowed ground for some, he ignites anti-racist fury before the movie is even released (for more info, check out It’s like he’s tight-rope walking without a net! How can this possibly go well?? I can’t wait!

TWIST: A movie directed by a joke of a director and based on a terrific television show ends up being totally amazing, despite the fact that it has a huge standard to live up to and that it suffers under the burden of shady casting decisions! That, or a poisonous gas emanates from the screen, we all slip into comas, and he scuttles through the crowd, stealing all of our wallets and jewelry.

*Well dang, who knew I could oversimplify so well! There’s tons more to this than that piddly sentence, so I encourage you to do some research if you’re interested. The book itself is an easy and fascinating read for anyone interested in film and a requirement for anyone who has uttered the words “Avatar sure was a great movie.”
**A figurative beer on an imaginary street. I’m a good person.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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