Filmmaking is a feat of administration as much as a technical or artistic craft. A good idea goes nowhere without the wherewithal to bring all the logistical pieces together. The difference between a good film and a mediocre one often comes down to how its production is managed, regardless of the talent involved. Hence, so many great writers, directors, actors, and other craftsmen find themselves attached to bombs. All the pieces have to mesh at once and in sync.
It has been some time since things have meshed for M. Night Shyamalan. The director who made his name with the 1999 breakout hit The Sixth Sense has in the years following suffered a steady and cringe-inducing decline reflected in both critical and commercial disappointment.
Recall that the teaser trailer for Shyamalan’s 2006 Lady in the Water rested heavily upon his involvement as a selling point. His name was offered as a credential, as assurance that the project would be worth seeing.
Up to that point, his name still carried weight. Following The Sixth Sense, he met with lesser success – but success nonetheless – with the comic book thriller Unbreakable, the esoteric alien-invasion tale Signs, and the brain-bending historical horror The Village.
Despite featuring the lovely and supremely talented Bryce Dallas Howard, Lady in the Water stood out as a turning point for the worse, leaving moviegoers confused at best and otherwise bored. It opened third in the box office and was widely derided as self-indulgent nonsense.
Seven years hence, Shyamalan’s name went wholly unmentioned in promotional material for his recent After Earth, starring Will Smith and son Jaden. Alas, hiding Shyamalan’s involvement could not ward off his curse. Sharing Lady in the Water’s distinction of a third-place box office open, After Earth earned less during its first weekend than the magician caper Now You See Me.
This fall, Shyamalan comes to the small screen, producing and directing a miniseries for FOX staring Matt Dillon and Melissa Leo. Wayward Pines is based upon a book series by the same name, described as a “weird mystery story” evoking comparisons to the cult classic Twin Peaks. Such material may be, as Shyamalan confesses in an interview with IGN, right up his alley. The question emerges: will the final product be up ours?