I watched the Sixth Sense for the first time last night, and I can’t help thinking, “what happened M. Night Shyamalan?” The Sixth Sense was ...

The Twists of M. Night Shyamalan

I watched the Sixth Sense for the first time last night, and I can’t help thinking, “what happened M. Night Shyamalan?” The Sixth Sense was masterfully directed and written, providing just the right amount of suspense and a twist ending that had everyone in the theater gasping for air. Add to that the superb performances of Bruce Willis and the kid from A.I., and the Sixth Sense was a box office smash. Unfortunately, none of Mr. Shyamalan’s later films have lived up to this debut. Shymamalan realized how important the twist ending was to the success of the Sixth Sense, and proceeded to throw the obligatory curve ball into every one of his subsequent films. The problem with this technique is that a) you can see it coming and b) a twist isn’t always a good thing. So here’s my take on the films of M. Night Shyamalan, their twists and their shortcomings.

Mark Wahlberg tries to find a plot that makes sense in The Happening
The Happening (2008)
Twist Ending: Plants are trying to kill us with a suicide inducing toxin.
I know it is the job of horror to take everyday things and infuse them with terror (think clowns and Chucky), but some things just don’t fit the bill and that includes the deer of Ring 2 and plants in the Happening. Unless it looks something like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, I’m not all that threatened by garden greenery. Add to this that the rules of infection keep changing, going from groups of people triggering the toxin to individuals, and you have a frustrating film that even Mark Wahlberg can’t save.

Lady in the Water (2006)
Twist Ending: I have no idea.
Lady in the Water was Shymamalan’s last ditch effort to bring back the forgotten art of storytelling by mixing the fantastical with the mundane. What we get instead is a slow paced film where the tale of the narf Story (metaphor anyone?) and her struggle to return to her world is so dense that it interferes with any potential thrills. The only thing worthwhile in this film is seeing Freddy Rodriquez of Planet Terror with a monstrously muscled right arm.

The Village (2004)  
Twist Ending: The monsters in the woods were made up by a bunch of grief-stricken hippies who founded the Village to escape from the outside world and its dangers.
The Village succeeds as a creepy horror film right up until the disappointing twist. The elders of the Village send a blind girl into the modern world beyond the forest for medicine to save her beloved. She has to go Red Riding style against the monstrous creatures that live in the woods, but Shymamalan cripples the suspense with the realization that the monsters aren’t real. So the bogeymen the elders used to keep the villagers under control don’t exist? That’s almost as bad as the whole movie being a dream (see Boxing Helena).

Signs (2002)
Twist Ending: The aliens who have invaded our planet are allergic to water.
I will admit this film had its moments, particularly the ones that feature Joaquin Phoenix in a tin foil hat, but those moments aren’t enough to justify the anti-climactic twist. After boarding up the house, having their last meal and hiding in the basement, the Hess family goes head to head with a pasty, gray-skinned alien. Their secret weapon? Countless glasses of water the youngest child has left all over the house. The ending is lame and defies logic, which aliens are rumored to be known for, being a more evolved race and all. Why the heck would they try to invade a planet mostly covered in stuff that can kill them? This movie’s twist is essentially a re-hash of War of the Worlds, where invading aliens die from lack of immunity to everyday germs.


  1. See, I don't think The Village is a crappy horror movie... in fact, it was a really good horror movie but I agree that the twist ruined it. I should have stayed the way it was and not strive for a twist ending.

    But with Signs, I actually enjoyed the twist because it was an homage to War of the Worlds where these big bad aliens died because of a cell that we were immune to.

  2. I find myself in agreement with much of your critique here. I wonder if the new special effects laden Shyamalan film signals a new way forward for him in traditional action blockbusters given his failures in Hitchcock-esque filmmaking of late.

    Still, I must disagree with you on The Village. Even thought the creatures are not creatures, I found the concept of a community creating monsters as a means of social control in order to protect others from evil of interest particularly since this has been tried before, as with church cultures. In addition, it reminds us that evil cannot be avoided, and even when a hedge is built around a community to prevent outside evil we eventually encounter the evil within ourselves. For me, The Village still presented interesting metaphors and moral lessons.

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  4. Sandman,

    I also dug the religious implications of the film and that aliens, things most people don't believe in but turn out to be real, are able to restore the father's lost faith in God.

    Yeah I saw he was doing the Last Air-bender and I wonder how it will turn out. I also enjoyed the Village for the same reason, that and the creatures were scary as f***k!

  5. This is what I think.