Are we on the cusp of an M. Night Shyamalan renaissance?

07.27.16 7 months ago

Universal Pictures

M. Night Shyamalan's career hit “next Spielberg”-level heat when his 1999 supernatural horror-drama The Sixth Sense won over critics and made nearly $300 million in North America on the strength of its third-act twist. While none of his subsequent films quite lived up to this initial promise — though Unbreakable and Signs both have their share of ardent defenders — they continued minting money for the studios until the release of 2006's Lady in the Water, a critically-reviled misfire that ranked as the first bona fide post-Sixth Sense flop of the young director's career. Since then it's been a tough road that reached its arguable nadir with 2013's After Earth, a would-be Will Smith blockbuster that all but destroyed Shyamalan's chances of ever helming a big-budget movie again.

And yet remarkably, Shyamalan seems to be on the comeback trail thanks to a considerable scaling-down of his ambitions; smartly sensing an opening for his talents in the low-budget horror sphere, he wrote and directed last year's found-footage success story The Visit, which netted him his best reviews since 2002's Signs and grossed nearly $100 million worldwide on a budget of just $5 million. Produced by genre power player Blumhouse, The Visit kickstarted a new phase of Shyamalan's career that has now resulted in a second Blumhouse movie entitled Split, which stars James McAvoy in the kind of role(s) we've rarely seen him play before. If the very effective first trailer is any indication, this one is looking like another relative triumph for the auteur who refuses to be counted out:

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Counter to the cryptic trailers for so many of his previous films, Split offers up a big reveal right from the get-go, and I think that's smart given that we're living in an era when Shyamalan's name alone is no longer enough to sell a film. The concept is key here, and it's a tantalizing one that hints not only at psychological transformation but physical metamorphosis as well. For all the times I've felt let down by Shyamalan, I'm somehow looking forward to this one — and that's a testament to his own (perhaps belated) talent for reinvention.

Split hits theaters on January 20, 2017.

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