If there was a graph depicting M. Night Shyamalan's career, it would look like a staircase heading into a basement. The director wowed audiences in 1999 with one of the greatest plot twists ever in The Sixth Sense. The film was incredible on a number of levels, and the director's ability to hide Easter Eggs gave him an immediate cult following. And this same following was led by the director a year later into the comic book genre. Well, M. Night's take on the comic book genre. With the help of Bruce Willis, audiences were introduced to Unbreakable. Showing expertise with atmosphere, the director's follow-up was good, just not as good. It did however convince us that he loved plot twists more than anything.
After Unbreakable, the filmography began a death spiral. Signs was mediocre, The Village was meh, and then we were presented with his favorite childhood story to tell. Lady in the Water was a promise that Shyamalan was switching gears, and that film was also terrible. The Happening, with Mark Wahlberg, was a shift into the horror genre, and that fell flat as well. The good news for studios was that, even with mediocre (at best) critical acclaim, almost every film was able to make money. Against all odds, the director still had some pull. Expectations had been lowered, but people still saw his original concepts as worthy enough for a theatrical visit.
Which is amazing, considering that 2010's The Last Airbender and 2013's After Earth were also awful, and some of the first signs that the director was no longer a box office guarantee.
M. Night Shyamalan Uses Thrills to Turn it Around
In 2015 M. Night Shyamalan gave us a straight up thriller. Creepy, like he likes it, The Visit was able to score well enough with critics while also earning back about twenty times its initial budget. It looks like the director has rediscovered his niche.
With renewed confidence, Shyamalan has attempted another thriller with added risk. While having grandparents be scary could have been considered risky, this time he went with a Psycho approach with Split. As evident by the trailer, the thriller's success depends entirely on the delivery of James McAvoy. And it looks like both he and Shyamalan deliver. The film scored well with audiences and critics alike who attended Fantastic Fest this past week.
Don't call it a comeback! But it damn well could be.
Split Reviews Out of Fantastic Fest
Check out a few of the first reviews for Split below. Is it possible M. Night Shyamalan could have a "Certified Fresh" property again? Hard to say, but he's off to a pretty good start.
Genre fans should embrace what is arguably the director’s most satisfying picture since The Sixth Sense. In some quarters, it will generate talk of a comeback for a filmmaker who has suffered both critical drubbing and box office humiliation over the past decade. -THR
Shyamalan has fully delivered on that promise with Split, an incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking thriller. Although occasionally heavy-handed, Shyamalan’s latest is his most considerate and effective film in years, with a startling emotional core. - Screencrush
Ladies and gentlemen, M. Night Shyamalan has officially caught his second wind. -Collider
In an era of remakes, sequels and franchises dominating the box office, M. Night Shyamalan still remains a refreshing change, even when his original concepts prove not very good. Let's just hope he can keep this positive winning streak up.