HomeOur ObsessionsTwists and turns: M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie moments

Twists and turns: M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie moments

M. Night Shyamalan is perfect for a thriller TV series. Though he’s had ups and downs, the director’s films still have their share of brilliant moments.

Twists and turns: M. Night Shyamalan’s best movie moments

A new psychological thriller series set to be executive-produced by M. Night Shyamalan found its future home at Apple last year. Written by Tony Basgallop, who recently worked on 24: Live Another Day, the series joins a number of new projects set to be released by Apple.

Shyamalan’s production company, Blinding Edge Pictures, will produce and the filmmaker himself will direct the first of ten half-hour episodes. The new show marks the latest in a long list of announcements from Apple, who have been heavily investing in new television series.

So far, the computer giant has ordered series from critically acclaimed filmmakers Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One) and Damien Chazelle (La La Land), as well as science-fiction shows from Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore and Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence. Its promising investment in talent could mark Apple as a serious streaming competitor for services like Netflix & Amazon.

Shyamalan is perfect for a thriller series, as all his better films have played within the genre. Re-emerging from a critical slump, The Visit and especially Split have fared much better than his attempts to break from his comfort zone with the science-fiction After Earth and the widely panned adaptation of The Last Airbender. Though he’s had some ups and downs, the director’s films still have their share of brilliant moments.

Those we don’t speak of

Those who have seen Shyamalan’s The Village remain divided on whether its bizarre twist ending actually works, but for fleeting moments the director could have you fooled that you’re watching an authentic period horror. The film is at its best when it stays within the boundaries of the forest clearing, offering fleeting glimpses of the beasts known only as “those we don’t speak of”.

Peculiar growls and roars are heard through the trees, and one frightening scene offers a momentary glance at the clawed creature lying beneath red cloaks: incredibly tense and effective for all of about five minutes, before its predictably twisty narrative gets in the way.

They called me Mr. Glass

Unbreakable is the dark superhero deconstruction that we all needed before the blockbuster space became flooded with Marvel and DC properties. Offering a realistic take at a hero’s origin story well before Christopher Nolan got his hands on Batman, Bruce Willis (Die Hard) stars as David Dunn, an inexplicable survivor of a terrible train crash who discovers he has superhuman strength & endurance.

The idea of an evil archnemesis doesn’t even cross the viewer’s mind until it is revealed that Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price, a comic book obsessive with brittle bones who has been looking for extraordinary individuals, reveals that he was behind the train crash. Author of his own meta-narrative, he recalls his memories of the kids who used to call him Mr. Glass for his easily breakable skeleton as the inception of his villainy.

Alien reveal

Shyamalan’s followup to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the Mel Gibson-led science-fiction horror Signs, is an effective blend of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and War of the Worlds that ditches UFOs and city destruction in favor of house invasion and tight suspense. When Gibson’s Graham Hess discovers mysterious crop circles in his cornfield, he discovers the symbols are a result of an extraterrestrial invasion.

The film’s best scene marks the first of two collaborations with masterful performer Joaquin Phoenix (Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot), who delivers perhaps the most authentic reaction to witnessing alien life in cinema history.

Cleaning the oven

After a string of critical and commercial failures, Shyamalan abandoned his attempts at action blockbusters and returned to his roots, delivering his first twisty thriller since The Happening.

Blending comedy and atmospheric tension as well as taking advantage of the modern popularity of found-footage movies, The Visit is deliberately or unintentionally funny (depending on whom you ask) and its most iconic moment involves a demented grandmother forcing her supposed granddaughter into her oven so she can “clean it”. Ill-advised at best.

Dinner scene

Watching The Sixth Sense for the first time, blind to its twist widely known by those who haven’t even seen it, is a thrill that everyone should experience. Sadly, we’re so confident that the fact Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time has already been spoiled for almost everyone that it shouldn’t be criminal to include this genius scene.

An underrated sequence sees Bruce Willis sitting down to dinner with his ex-wife and trying to strike up a conversation. Of course, his attempts fail and he doesn’t get a response, being a ghost and all, but the performances are so convincing that what should be an obvious twist still isn’t apparent until the end of the film.

The Beast

Shyamalan’s latest film Split was a surprise hit. Though its smaller production doesn’t quite hit the broad scale of The Village or Sixth Sense, James McAvoy’s brilliant performance as a troubled psychopath with 23 distinct personalities is equal parts sinister and comical enough to convincingly carry its preposterous premise.

The film teases “The Beast”, a 24th personality in danger of being unleashed. When it finally reveals itself as a persona with augmented strength and uncontainable range, without the addition of any visual effects and minimal makeup, McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) transforms into a horrifying creature.

Crop circles

Previously a tall tale of conspiracy theorists and mad farmers, no one could have believed that a film could translate the crazy notion of alien visitors leaving symbols in cornfields convincingly. Delivering all its best moments before Mel Gibson comes into contact with any intergalactic beings, Signs not only managed to feature crop circles that don’t look ridiculous, the buildup shares the same tension and mystery characteristics of the more successful Shyamalan films.

What? No!

Once again returning to science fiction, The Happening was Shyamalan’s first big failure. His attempt at a disaster film, if Signs was a modern update of War of the Worlds, The Happening is a misjudged take on the plant-based horror of The Day of the Triffids.

Rather than resulting in deadly smart science fiction, the final product was an unfortunate blend of schlocky action and a laughable performance from Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter). A now-infamous scene in which Wahlberg is accused of ulterior motives is so unconvincing it’s entered the catalogue of Shyamalan’s most iconic moments, despite (or because of) how terrible it is.

Bruce Willis’s cameo

Those familiar with the aforementioned and lesser-known Shyamalan classic Unbreakable may have had a sneaking suspicion that the style and premise of his most recent film, Split, seemed a little familiar.

Shyamalan had dealt with supernatural individuals before and, by the time James McAvoy resembles a schizophrenic Batman villain dubbed “The Hoard”, the director’s number is up. In a mid-credits scene that adapts Shyamalan’s Unbreakable universe to the modern day style of superhero movies, Bruce Willis shows up as David Dunn to confirm that the two films are indeed set within the same chronology.

“I see dead people”

The classic line from Shyamalan’s most iconic film. This whispered confession from Haley Joel Osment (A.I. Artificial Intelligence) still remains a terrifying revelation, catapulting the ghost story from a small supernatural thriller to an internationally renowned horror movie. The second-highest-grossing film of 1999, the film wasn’t M. Night’s directorial debut, but it was the film that launched his success and established his notoriety.

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Lucas is a film nerd who's usually found in London cinemas, cafes, and bookshops, buying books he'll never read. When he's not watching or writing about movies & TV, he's asleep.

lucas@filmdaily.co