M. Night Shyamalan is back with a new movie opening Friday. It’s called Split and features James McCoy as a man wit 24 distinct personalities. It’s the latest from a writer-director who started strong and since has had problems. We’ll soon know whether Split is a commercial and critical high point or not – it wasn’t screened in time for a CityBeat review.
I remember catching his first film Praying With Anger (1992), possibly as part of a festival. It was a few years after the film’s release, but prior to the emergence of Shyamalan as a cinematic wunderkind. His breakout began with The Sixth Sense in 1999.
Everyone talks about its twist ending, but the real surprise was the evolutionary leap Shyamalan made. He had already established himself as a multi-hyphenate – writing, producing, directing, and even stepping in front of the camera – but Anger and his second film Wide Awake had been small indie efforts.
With The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan announced his true intentions: to follow in the footsteps of his creative idol Steven Spielberg. And with Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, it certainly looked like he was well on his way. He garnered fan boy cache with his smoldering superhero origin story Unbreakable and box office revenue with Signs. But he started skidding with The Village and The Happening (not so lovingly dubbed “The Crappening”) and then suffered an outright crash with The Last Airbender and the Will & Jaden Smith sci-fi debacle After Earth. Some might say the fall was inevitable.
I approached The Visit with a great deal of trepidation. What would his pairing with the trendy boutique horror of Blumhouse Productions (known as the franchise factory behind The Purge, Sinister, and Insidious) look like? Well, like a low-key return to form. Shyamalan exhibited his slow-burn narrative approach, while also reserving a hint of his ability to surprise us with unexpected shot. So we would all be wise to focus on Shyamalan right now.