M. Night Shyamalan is Making a Big Mistake
A sequel is not what we need from one of the world’s most original directors.
M. Night Shyamalan has had a helluva comeback. The man behind such hits as The Sixth Sense transitioned to notorious flops like The Happening and lost a lot of credibility during his downfall. Once a marquee director, Sony’s marketing campaign for the 2013 sci-fi blockbuster After Earth hid his name from the marketing. His name no longer meant “quality”; his brand was toxic.
Just when he looked out for the count, he made The Visit. Although the film was touted as a “back to his roots” effort — the film is light on special effects, high on suspense, and features his trademarked third act twist — the situation is a little more complicated. Shyamalan aligned himself with low-budget horror producer Jason Blum, one of the most disruptive and effective filmmakers in the game. Furthermore, Shyamalan self-financed the film and showed a lot of savvy conforming to the modern expectations of a horror film. He wasn’t working with A-list stars and $80 million dollar budgets and it wasn’t a problem. It was his best work in years!
Split debuted in January of 2017 and solidified his return. The $10 million dollar feature has made $274 million worldwide. As an original film, it’s a remarkable achievement. The success is due to a variety of factors, the largest of which is M. Night’s rehabilitated reputation. People liked the idea of M. Night Shyamalan making a high concept thriller, so they went to see it. The film’s second twist in the final moments, however, did not contribute to the hype.
It came as a surprise for some to learn that Split takes place in the same universe as the superhero deconstruction Unbreakable. For the rest of the audience, they probably didn’t care. I’m not going to deny the Internet’s loud reaction to the revelation. Unbreakable has garnered a very positive reputation over the years. Furthermore, it’s no secret that Shyamalan wanted a sequel or even a trilogy to follow his movie. The possibility of a follow-up always ghosted around his roller-coaster career, which made the twist all the more fun. For a significant demographic, I believe it made the film better. But the draw for the movie came from the misconception that it was another original, stand-alone thriller from M. Night Shyamalan. Had the film been marketed from the beginning as an Unbreakable spin-off, I can’t imagine it would have done the same business. Ironically, it may have alienated a wider audience, so the information was repurposed a “twist.” As it stands, Blumhouse and Universal did not rely on nostalgia or internet buzz to sell it — just the hook of film and the M. Night Shyamalan name.
These days almost every movie that hits screen is a sequel, reboot, remake, or adaptation. Shyamalan himself has only ever made one adaptation (The Last Airbender) and no sequels. It’s disappointing to me that Split doesn’t even count as a non-sequel anymore, at least not by the strictest definition. M. Night Shyamalan deserves to make the movies he wants to, and if he wants to make his next film a sequel, I accept that. Better to make sequels to a franchise he created than get hired for the next Fast and Furious entry for sure.
Still, I can’t get over the fact that M. Night Shyamalan made and then remade his name on the strength of his original movies and that his first act back on top is to stop making them. I respect him for what he’s accomplished and can only hope that when Glass is done, his next film is another film sold on the strength of his name, not nostalgia for something else.