8. Glass (2019)
The Avengers for Shyamalan films. “Unbreakable” series is mostly great, the first film is still impressive and the second film is the smart sequel no expected for. The expectations were little high for this because it seemed like Shyamalan has finally made a comeback the people were waiting for. “Glass” is little too ambitious for its own good and lacks the visual creativeness. That said, it’s still not bad at all. At least not for the big part of it.
The story is once again intriguing and the first half mostly works great. The thing is when the hype around Shyamalan gets too big, it goes over his head. He thinks he’s too smart and can do everything and that’s why the results end being up so messy. However, if we’d set aside all the expectations we have after the first two mostly successful installments of the trilogy, “Glass” is still suspenseful film with some very strong acting performances and in this age where the mainstream culture is populated by superhero films and shows, “Glass” shows that there are different ways of telling superhero stories. While there are things that doesn’t work in “Glass”, there are certainly other things that work really well. Like many of Shyamalan films, there’s something fascinating about it.
7. Knock at the Cabin (2023)
Shyamalan is at his best when he’s humble, when he makes films that are “play-like” as he describes instead of big studio entertainments. “Knock at the Cabin” is certainly an up-tier Shyamalan movie which features some of his best direction. It’s simple in its story but often engrossing, suspenseful and somewhat creepy.
The acting is all around strong, his cameo is funny and the twist ending, which this time – spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it – is that “twist is that there’s no twist” is kind of good. It got some backlash from the fans of the book for leaving the ambiguity behind and even thought it’s homophobic. However, one can argue that there’s nothing homophobic for a man sacrificing himself for the bright future of the man he loves and the child they had. Maybe if it was his original story and not an adaptation of a novel that had a different, well-received ending, the reception could be better.
Then again, it’s nice to have a movie that creates discourses and discussions around it. Not expecting what you expect from him is Shyamalan’s signature. Certainly an improvement over “Old”, the movies features some of his favorite themes including the mysticism and faith. Some also interpreted movie as an allegory which gives a message about ecology and that’s a theme dear to Shyamalan’s heart as well, as we know from “The Happening”.
6. The Village (2004)
Shyamalan goes period, or does he? A small village in 19th-century America is cut off from the outside world by a vast forest inhabited by mysterious creatures. The status quo is only called into question when a young woman dares to seek her way into the cities to save the life of her fiancé.
Constantly intriguing and somewhat impressive mix of various genres, which at the same time formulates fundamental questions about human civilisation. The ending twist is shocking but probably the weakest part of mostly engrossing, creepy film which features some of the best most assured direction of Shyamalan’s career. His visual style works best for this kind of story and this is some of the best work he got from his actors, particularly by late William Hurt.
The film had led to discourses about if it’s pro- or anti-Bush government, what it wants to say about isolation, about innocence, with many noting that the film shows how isolation from the outside and repression from the inside go hand in hand. Shyamalan, however, said it’s a film about people who lost their faith in humanity and that it’s about power of love and trust. It’s one of his most thought-provoking films that did great box-office but the critics were little too mean to it. Since then, it seems like there’s a general acceptance that it’s one of his best films. İf you enjoy this one, check out “Wayward Pines” as well.
5. The Visit (2015)
The year of “return-to-form” reviews came in 2015 with his hit FOX show “Wayward Pines” and surprising film “The Visit” which basically came out of nowhere. It’s not even right to call it “back to roots” for Shyamalan because he never actually done films like this. It’s the first he makes horror film. Sure, some might say so were “Signs” and “The Sixth Sense” but he disagrees, claiming even though there were terrifying things in them, still they were thrillers. It’s found-footage and as you can expect from the genre, it has no score in it. No big stars also. It’s also his first comedy, most of the film is funny and the script has so much wit in them. No cameo by him also.
After big-budget studio releases flopping hard, Shyamalan funded The Visit by borrowing $5 million against his home. Obviously, he was trying to do something more honest, that is not a “corporate” movie. He wanted to have full creative, artistic control and try something new.
This is also one of his best twist endings, because the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously enough for you to care about its logic and it also kind of makes sense for the rest of the story. The movie is fun, entertaining and has good amount of creepy moments as well. Not only it’s a good film and was a back-to-form/early comeback moment for Shyamalan, but also it proved that he has sides we don’t know about and can still surprise us.
4. Signs (2002)
When you think about, films like “Signs” are getting rare these days: an actually suspenseful mainstream studio thriller. After not being able to get cast Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood, as he wanted to get an older lead role at first, Shyamalan finally got Mel Gibson to play former pastor Graham Hess. He lives on a farm with his two children Morgan and Bo and his brother Merrill after the accidental death of his wife which caused him to lose his faith in God. His brother also moved in with him. When large crop circles appear in the Hess’ cornfield, they are initially attributed to vandals. However, other crop circles begin to appear globally, and lights from invisible objects hover over many of Earth’s cities.
That’s already an intriguing premise but it gets better thanks to Shyamalan being at his top form, fine performances, and that score. It’s parodied to no end (looking at you, “Scary Movie 3”) and when it was fashionable to trash M. Night movies, this one got lots of mocking as well but for the first-time watch, it’s a highly effective and thought-provoking thriller.
Even think of that famous birthday scene, that has to be one of the best jump scare moments ever. Shyamalan builds the tension slowly, then when it happens, we get shocked just like Joaquin shocked and the music always helps. Roger Ebert called it as “the work of a born filmmaker, able to summon apprehension out of thin air”, with praising the ending: “At the end of the film, I had to smile, recognizing how Shyamalan has essentially ditched a payoff. He knows, as we all sense, that payoffs have grown boring.”
3. Unbreakable (2000)
Certainly bit hurt by the marketing campaign by its studio, “Unbreakable” was well-received but still a confusing follow-up to “The Sixth Sense”, especially since it’s made around the time when superhero movies were not as popular. Shyamalan wanted to promote the film as a comic book movie, but the studio Touchstone insisted on portraying it as a psychological thriller, similar to The Sixth Sense. In fact, organized the narrative of Unbreakable to parallel a comic book’s traditional three-part story structure and made the movie as some kind of realistic comic book movie.
In a sense, it was very original and almost groundbreaking for its time. Since the general audience was expecting another “Sixth Sense”, they were bit disappointed but over the years, “Unbreakable” now started to be seen as one of Shyamalan’s finest works. It’s often considered to be one of the best superhero movies of all time right now, with lots of praise given to its actors, the aesthetics, the score and the premise, which Quentin Tarantino describes as “”what if Superman was here on earth, and didn’t know he was Superman?”. He also called the movie “a masterpiece”.
When you think about it, this was one of the first comic book movies that took the genre seriously but also underlined the danger of it if you devote your life to it. This is Shyamalan at its finest; delivering raw emotions, thought-provoking themes and haunting atmosphere. So much so that even many of his haters end up admitting its brilliance.
2. Split (2016)
Its ranking is interchangeable with “Unbreakable” as they complete each other really well, with or without “Glass”. It also has probably the finest Shyamalan twist that the movie we were watching turned out to be a sequel to one of his best films and it helps that this film was not an embarrassment at all. In fact, it’s one of his finest thrillers.
Shyamalan loves claustrophobic settings as some of his films doesn’t have many locations but this one beats them all at how effectively he uses it. It’s so easy to get boring with the premise but Shyamalan and his DP use the space quite well, they almost play with it and you feel yourself very engrossed to the story and the atmosphere.
These are all need to be highlighted because James McAvoy’s performance is so good that sometimes it overshadows what a great job Shyamalan has done. It’s not to take away from McAvoy because he tackles incredibly hard role, he could make it campy, he could make it unnecessarily over-the-top but he keeps it at right balance. That’s a skilled, very impressive performance that should get some awards recognition but genre films never get the love they deserve.
The movie also helped to establish Anya Taylor Joy as a star. It’s also once again featuring some interesting themes and Shyamalan manage to handle them all with nuance. He’s able to control his worst instincts and delivers a very fine, tense, wildly entertaining ride to all of us.
1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Really hard to pick up anything else even if you try hard. The hype around “The Sixth Sense” was insane and it was bit of a curse for Shyamalan as well because the hype was so incredibly high that it was almost impossible to live up to it. They hailed him as “The next Spielberg” but that’s why Spielberg is a rare figure for cinema because he was one of those directors who had that incredible high and he made it work. Shyamalan was a different kind of filmmaker anyway, despite his love for Spielberg. Mostly because he also solely writes his own movies .
“The Sixth Sense’ popularity was too high that its detractors were getting nitpicky and those who found the hype overblown were already waiting to target Shyamalan for his next efforts. However, the movie is still brilliantly crafted and features everything that makes Shyamalan unique in his own way. One of the things about him is that even though he’s so invested in aliens, superheroes and supernatural stuff, his films are always about people. Surely, somewhat sentimental but the right kind of sentimental. The one that touches the heart. No wonder the Toni Collette scene in the car still resonates or many other scenes. It’s terrifying at times, creepy but also touching. He gets terrific performances from all the cast.
Once again, similar to some of his films, it got parodied so much but “I see dead people” is still one of the most memorable film quotes ever. The twist is brilliant also, it doesn’t feel like a throwaway or that it’s here for the shock factor. The movie was already great before that but the twist almost enriches the themes, it serves to the story and when you re-watch it, the twist becomes more impressive because how well it was hidden and how well it helps to recontextualize the entire film. While watching it, nothing was hidden, you were not asking “why this was like that? Why the other thing was like this?”. As surprising as it is, revealing of the twist still doesn’t ruin the movie. Though, of course it’s better to watch it without knowing much about it.