M. Night Shyamalan: An Unexpected Yet True Underdog

Over the past ten years, M. Night Shyamalan managed to make one of the worst-reviewed films in 2010 and collaborated with Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith for a film that tanked. Despite that, Shyamalan has a hit tv show on Apple+ TV, now in its second season. His 2021 film Old was a success and he is guaranteed another film to direct thanks to a deal with Universal. Shyamalan made quite the comeback and it’s amazing, inspiring, and heartfelt to watch. I am going to say this right off the bat. This article is not meant to convince you; YESSS M. NIGHT HE IS BACK. Okay, maybe just a little bit but let’s be honest; I have a feeling many who are reading this will always remember him for The Last Airbender and will have already made up their mind about him as a filmmaker. My only hope is that this provides some insight into how M. Night dealt with failure in the tumultuous world known as Hollywood and managed to find closure and forge a new path as a storyteller.

OLD poster.

I believe the first film I saw of Shyamalan’s was Signs. I planned to watch Sixth Sense but that was spoiled for me in a Scrubs episode by Dr. Cox, who played John. C McGinley. I wasn’t upset. I was blown away after I confirmed it. I put it off for years and still haven’t seen it. Maybe one day I will. Signs terrified me and even though Lady in the Water and The Happening panned, I quite liked them. Lady was this oddball and wondrous fantasy and The Happening was this creepy thriller full of odd silences and stares but for me, it worked in this world-ending scenario.

Shyamalan became a household name with the Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and then Signs. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Greg Booker for Stuart Little and did some rewrites on the hit 90s comedy She’s All That. He expertly knows to make the perfect psychological thriller with some cinematic twists and then pulls out of his magicians hat his comedic writing chops.

Shyamalan hit a critical slump with The VillageLady in the Water, and The Happening, but box office wise Village exceeded, Happening was average and Lady in the Water fell short so M Night is staying afloat

When I first heard he was announced as the director for the acclaimed Nickelodeon cinematic animated treasure known as Avatar: The Last Airbender, I was intrigued. I remember the season 2 DVD special feature featuring Night talking with the creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. I was riddled with excitement. I didn’t pay attention to any casting updates or production news until the teaser trailer. That was a trailer during Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I think many can agree the hype for this film was real. It took me a while for the reviews to sink in. I had some time to examine the film. There were some good intentions but ultimately miscasting, lazy editing, mostly above-average visual effects, many plotholes, and misplaced dialogue, this film was indeed a misfire.

I felt bad for Shyamalan because I really wanted this film to do well and it fell short. He produced the brilliant thriller Devil later that year but I think the damage was done. There seemed to be a glimmer of hope when Night got the chance to work with Will Smith who was hot off Men In Black 3. There was also Jaden Smith who successfully re-ignited the Karate Kid flame. 

Jaden Smith in After Earth.

After Earth fell hard.

I remember an interview Will Smith gave for CBS Sunday Morning for Concussion and he talked about how humbling that film was for him professionally and personally. Shyamalan soon spearheaded Wayward Pines and hired twin brothers Ross and Matt to write on the show and those two later went on to make Netflix’s golden child Stranger Things. Since Hollywood wasn’t willing to bet on Shyamalan after two losses, he put up his own money to make The Visit. He had to mortgage his own house  The film became a return to the roots of his success and after some great reviews and box office, he was able to make another winning film, Split with a great twist which turned out to be a sequel the entire time, and then close the trilogy with Glass. Not the best ending but made a sizable profit.

In closing, there are some amazing interviews M. Night Shyamalan gives from his post Airbender experience for The Verge on YouTube, his podcast interview with JJ Reddick, his long-form panel interviews, and a commencement speech, I have learned many amazing things. Rooting for the underdog is rewarding. How many Indian American directors can you name off the top of your head? For me? besides Shyamalan? One. To be one of the few Indian American filmmakers in the USA and to keep it going is hard enough but I can’t imagine being in his shoes and having your name smeared for years post-After Earth and Airbender and then being the one and if only a few people of Indian descent trying to represent and deal with the fallout of essentially being an outcast in Hollywood.

But I admire M. Night Shyamalan because I am sure M Night was dealing with an array of emotions during that time but there is a line from After Earth I still think about to this day

“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is the product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Now do not misunderstand me, the danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

Shyamalan learned how challenging making blockbusters can be when he was used to making smaller budget films. Sometimes the story doesn’t connect and other times creative integrity gets mixed and lost (that’s an article for another time). He chose to leap and fell and then decided to take another leap and go back to his roots to what ignited this filmmaking fiery spirit. Instead of listening to the noise, he made that choice to rise again. He has stared in the face of rejection, ridicule, failure, and maybe losing his livelihood and to echo a line from The Legend Of Korra:

” When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change”

Shyamalan made two hit TV shows.

From a certain point of view, Stranger Things wouldn’t exist without M. Night.

Universal made a deal with M. Night Shyamalan to make two more films.

The best is still yet to come and I am so thrilled to one day witness that.

“Whatever happens with Glass, it’s great it’s good. Failure, success. So if the universe wants me to fail three more times for to teach me to look to an even higher level of connecting with characters or my art form I believe in that.”

2 Replies to “M. Night Shyamalan: An Unexpected Yet True Underdog”

  1. Awesome article. Glad to know M is back. I still haven’t watched The Sixth Sense myself. My first Shyamalan film was Unbreakable and remains one of my favorites of his. Devil which he also gave the story for I believe was also very enthralling. The Happening is also a gulty pleasure for me. Haven’t heard that much about Servant but glad it’s a hit and that Universal has signed up Night for 2 more films. What a comeback!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thanks for reading appreciate that…its amazing night got to work with bruce willis for years.. what a legend.. that is something no one can take away from him ever.. i havent seen sixth sense either but no shame… glad someone else liked devil …. servant is on my list. he gets to work with ron weasley… when you get the chance check out the interviews slash podcasts i mentioned in your spare time.. worth every minute and i will always root for people of color letting their voices shine.. once again thanks for taking the time….

    Like

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