Glass could be a much-needed boost to M. Night Shyamalan's career, and the Unbreakable series
If Shyamalan's next film Glass hits the sweet spot, he will have managed something seemed unimaginable by Hollywood standards — a great comeback.
Had it be any other filmmaker, the positive reaction garnered by the trailer of an upcoming film — which also happens to be a much-awaited follow-up to a beloved cult classic — would be enough to announce the return to the A-league. But if that filmmaker happens to be M. Night Shyamalan, this wouldn't mean much.
Shyamalan's last few outings have been nothing short of a disaster. But he was once counted among the last of the greats from the previous century, thanks to the breakthrough smash hit The Sixth Sense (1999). Shyamalan was touted to be "the next Spielberg" by Newsweek at the time, and no matter the box office fate of his films, he has always had strong viewership. It is no big deal then, for a filmmaker of his stature, for Glass to get great pre-release buzz.
The manner in which Glass, the sequel to Unbreakable (2000), has been getting feedback from both die-hard aficionados and general audiences suggests that days when Shyamalan's name on the screen would be booed — which happened during the screening of the trailer of the horror film Devil (2010) — are going to be a thing of the past.
Following the success of The Sixth Sense, which up until 2017 was the highest grossing horror film ever and besides raking in over $600 million worldwide, the filmmaker could sell a film on just his name and for the next few years more than delivered on that promise. In quick succession, Shyamalan made Unbreakable, a true superhero origin story, Signs (2002), which besides being a genuine alien thriller was also the last of Mel Gibson’s studio hits, and The Village (2004), which despite being criticised for its plausibility, collected over $200 million at the box office. There was nothing that could go wrong and Shyamalan could hardly take a wrong step. But not for long.
Observers and commentators are convinced that the exact point where it all went wrong for Shyamalan was the release of a documentary called The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan (2004), which was released simultaneously with The Village in an attempt to not just cash in on the hype of the former but also burnish the filmmaker’s brand. The documentary hints at some kind of childhood accident that left him with a connection with the 'other side’ and purports that many of the characters that the audiences had seen up until that point in his films were actually an interpretation of the super-hero that Shyamalan was in real life. Legend has it Shyamalan also planted stories in the media that he was not happy with the way the documentary had turned out and wanted to hide what it was supposedly going to reveal.
Shyamalan’s next release was Lady in the Water (2006) and featured him as the lead. It ended up becoming his first major flop. Shyamalan would often cast himself in minor roles in his films and this was seen as a hat tip to Alfred Hitchcock, but when he chose to play the lead in a $70 million film, he redefined self-indulgence.
The film made just $72 million at the box office and also saw Shyamalan end his long-standing partnership with Disney. Shyamalan’s next, psychological thriller The Happening (2008), which could also be labeled as one of the first mainstream ecological-horror films, made money at the box office and got his core audiences intrigued enough but the damage caused by Lady in the Water was just too much to be undone so soon.
It would nearly be a decade post-The Happening before M. Night Shyamalan finally found his groove. In the middle, he made ‘expensive flops' like The Last Airbender (2010) and After Earth (2013), which were critically panned as well. The spell, so to speak, was broken with The Village. Made on a budget of just $5 million The Visit (2015) made nearly $98.5 million at the box office, but more than that it the consensus among fans on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes, who felt that the film "provides horror fans with a satisfying blend of thrills and laughs", that proved to be more satisfying.
Subsequently, Shyamalan’s Split (2016), a psychological horror that follows a man (James McAvoy) with 23 different personalities, one of which sees him transform into a cannibalistic sociopath with superhuman abilities, was welcomed as a sequel to Unbreakable by the audiences, and it was hailed by critics as a "masterful blend of Hitchcock, horror and therapy session.” The film was a surprise hit and ended up being a huge box office success ($287 million on a budget of $9 million) besides giving Shyamalan a trilogy to work on.
Apparently, when the studios refused to finance a sequel to Unbreakable, Shyamalan began working on a character that he had originally envisioned in Unbreakable and ended up with Split. Now, Glass would reunite David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah “Mr. Glass” Price (Samuel L. Jackson) with Kevin Wendell Crumb / The Horde (James McCoy) for good measure.
F Scott Fitzgerald once bitterly observed: "There are no second acts in American lives”, but it appears like M. Night Shyamalan might prove him wrong. Even if Shyamalan could never return to the highs he enjoyed at the turn of the century, if Glass hits the sweet spot, he will have managed something that seemed unimaginable by Hollywood standards - a great comeback.
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