There was a time when M. Night Shyamalan was considered to be a good director. More than that, he was thought by many to be one of the greats. The Sixth Sense is still held as a masterwork of the horror genre, while both Signs and Unbreakable are considered to be movies indicative of a talented creative mind. And then something strange happened. The Village came out to middling reviews, and many chocked it up to an inevitable (and supposedly temporary) off-movie for Shyamalan.
But then along came Lady in the Water, hitting a paltry 24% in Rotten Tomatoes for a bizarrely unwatchable effort. Two years later, The Happening opened to a 17% rating, and then the wheels came off completely. The Last Airbender marked the lowest point in Shyamalan’s once-illustrious career, making for an adaptation of the Avatar cartoons that was so universally reviled that fans now pretend the movie never even existed. For most directors, this would be enough to get drummed out of Hollywood permanently. But somehow, this ended up not being the case.
After Earth hit theaters in 2013 as Shyamalan’s first try at hitting the writer-director-producer trifecta since the disaster of The Last Airbender three years before. Unfortunately it was similarly sub-par, flopping to the tune of $60.5 million at the domestic box office. Despite this, though, there was someone out there who thought, “I should let this man make another movie.” And so begins the saga of Shyamalan’s next project, The Visit. We know little of what it’ll be about, but barring a monumental turnaround, it’s hard to imagine anything but more of the same.
The real controversy here isn’t so much about whether The Visit will be a return to form for Shyamalan. Rather, it’s one simple question: Why does Hollywood keep betting on a losing horse? The film industry is merciless by nature. It produces entertainment for the masses, but only if studios are certain they can turn a significant profit.
Hollywood functions like any corporation, except its modus operandi is monetizing art and making tons of money in doing so. There are three general categories of films studios tend to invest in: good movies that will make tons of money, bad movies that will make tons of money, and good movies that won’t make much money but will earn a studio artistic street cred that can be parlayed into tons of money later on. Bafflingly, Shyamalan falls into none of these categories as a working writer and director.
Likely, the case is that Hollywood is continuing to take a flier out on a director who’s seen better days in hopes that this time will be the one that sees him capture the magic of his early efforts. It’s unfortunate, then, when you consider Shyamalan’s filmmaking ability has deteriorated each time he’s penned a new film.
For whatever reason, he’s lost the ability to connect with an audience, instead opting for overused tropes and flat dialogue. But that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from attempting to mine something (really, anything) out of him to recapture the days of The Sixth Sense. It would certainly be a coup for anyone to be that studio that gave him the one chance he needed, but so far, all it’s yielded is the continued decline of a once-proud career.
For all we know, The Visit could end up being a complete and utter return to prominence. No one is rooting for Shyamalan to make a bad movie, and cinema would be better off with more offerings like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. But at a point, the “Charlie Brown and the football” situation can only happen so many times before it’s time to stop trusting in a director who hasn’t produced a high-quality product since 2002.
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