He’s become the film world’s equivalent of that band you can’t wait to hear more of.
They release an album, a couple of singles, and then nothing for years. You look for bootlegs and mp3s but it’s a tight ship. Eventually, after waiting and waiting, and almost forgetting, they come back again – with something else amazing, something that slowly teases and leaves you with something that will play over and over in your mind for days, maybe weeks, to come.
With just a handful of films to his name M. Night Shyamalan is fast-becoming the world’s favourite director. This month sees the release of his latest movie, Lady in the Water.
Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) has been quietly trying to disappear among the burnt-out lightbulbs and broken appliances of the Cove apartment complex for some time, but one night he finds someone else hiding in the mundane routine of the modest building. A mysterious young woman named Story (played by ethereal beauty Bryce Dallas Howard), has been living in the passageways beneath the building’s swimming pool. Cleveland discovers that Story is actually a narf – a nymph-like character from an epic bedtime story who is being stalked by creatures determined to prevent her from making the treacherous journey from our world back to hers.
In 1999, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan captivated everyone with The Sixth Sense, a multi-layered ghost story powered by equal parts suspense and emotion. The movie became a worldwide cultural phenomenon and added a new dimension to the character-driven blockbuster. His succession of hit films that followed, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village, have established him as an inventive director with vision and purpose.
A master storyteller, Shyamalan can craft a single image or a line of dialogue that resonates with audiences for a lifetime.
His assured visual style, characterised by thoughtful framing, and scenes that unfold in long takes, is as provocative as the stories he tells and underscores his passion for storytelling. It doesn’t have to rush, if you give the movie space to breathe, people will go with it – something seemingly forgotten by the majority of his peers.
“My movies are an expression of who I am and where I am emotionally,” Shyamalan says. “Each film has its questions that I’m wrestling with at that time. I believe in being honest with the audience, so I try to talk honestly about the things I’m dealing with in the context of a fictional story that everyone can enjoy.”
Possibly his most original film yet, Lady in the Water began as an impromptu bedtime story invented by Shyamalan for his two young daughters. “The way I tell stories to my kids is very freeform,” he explains. “Whatever pops into my head and comes out of my mouth.” After finding that the story resonated with both him and his children, Lady in the Water is the result of taking the idea and running with it.
It is inevitable that even before its release, many moviegoers and critics will dismiss Lady in the Water. With their insatiable appetite to be shocked, and a complete lack of imagination, there are those who desperately look for the twist, and then say, “Yeah, I knew that was gonna happen. I saw it coming miles off.” Fuck you – don’t bother watching films if you’re not going to let the story lead you by the hand. Follow the path, don’t look at the trees. If there’s something important there, you’ll find out. We’re all going to leave the cinema knowing the same thing, so what is there to gain by ruining it for yourself, and making people think that you’re a twat?
I say Shyamalan, you say twist. But what if the twist is that there is no twist….