In the essay I wrote about Sean Baker’s Starlet for last week’s issue, I said that “despite its air of documentary-style naturalism, [the film] feels closer in spirit to M. Night Shyamalan.” I only realized in hindsight that this might come across as a dig at Shyamalan, whose films I rather enjoy. The writer-director has become an easy target in recent years, his name synonymous in some circles with Hollywood hucksterism. But before people derided Shyamalan for his plot twists and somber atmosphere, they went to see his movies in droves—I remember having difficulty avoiding The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs in the years they came out.
The tide started turning upon the release of The Village. Though it opened at number one at the box office, it received fewer positive reviews than Shyamalan’s previous films, and audiences seemed to walk out from it disappointed. The popular consensus was that the filmmaker was running out of ideas; the movie’s plot twist, normally the big draw of Shyamalan’s work, felt anticlimactic. Eight years on, The Village now looks to me like Shyamalan’s best film, in part because its twist is so essential to its overall meaning. I’ve thought about it a good deal in the weeks since seeing Starlet.