M. Night Shyamalan is a man who has seen both extremes of the filmmaking spectrum.

The writer/director found himself gracing the top with THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS. He was on occasion called “the next Steven Spielberg” and his knack for telling stories that played out like a “Twilight Zone” resonated and captivated audiences. For a while.

The audiences started to grow weary of the “twist ending,” some of which reached a little too hard to achieve. The stories stopped captivating, and box offices started to turn on him. After THE VILLAGE, Shyamalan found the pendulum swinging far to the other side with LADY IN THE WATER, THE HAPPENING, THE LAST AIRBENDER, and AFTER EARTH. As he continually sank farther to the bottom, it seemed that he was a man who bought into his own hype, had to find a way to insert himself into every film, and overworked himself to gather the magic back in his storytelling. With the string of box office failures, most wondered if he’d fade quickly into obscurity.

(L to R) Rory Culkin, Joaquin Phoenix, and Abigail Breslin in Signs

But instead of fading, he took a step back, produced a new TV show, and found that storytelling magic again with THE VISIT. His own take on the found-footage genre about a pair of kids who visit their grandparents for the first time, and end up wondering who, or what, they really are. He’s ushering in a new “Tales from the Crypt” series with TNT sometime this year. And his follow-up film in the new age of Shyamalan, SPLIT, is gearing up for release.

James McAvoy in Split

SPLIT follows a group of girls who are kidnapped by the ever amazing James McAvoy, who suffers from a small clan of distinct personalities, include some that will terrorize the abductees and some that will continue to terrorize them. All of the personalities are fearing the imminent rise of an entirely new being, The Beast. Talking with The A.V. Club, Shyamalan talked about how the family dynamic and how it responds to threat is at the core of what he writes:

I don’t know why, but certainly many filmmakers return to the same tropes over and over. Maybe they’re trying to work out something? For me, I find it endlessly interesting, the family dynamic. Taking something extraordinary and pitting that against a family dynamic—that’s great for me. Maybe it has something to do with the way I live. Maybe if I was unmarried and I was dating constantly, I’d write about a dude who dates a lot of women. [Laughs.]

You write what you know. I mean, you can see, the girls who star in [Split] are 18, 19, 20 years old—my daughters’ age. When I wrote Abigail Breslin’s part in Signs, that’s how old my daughter was. They were both 5 years old. I [tried to write] how she thinks and how she dreams. You know, “Is she connected to something that I’m not aware of?” Those thoughts go through your head.”

In talking about how sometimes you have to flip someone on their head to truly understand how they work:

“…I tell my kids not to label things good or bad, because you’re gonna be wrong on both counts. It is what you make of it. One time, I was giving this speech at a high school, and what I really wanted to say—which I didn’t say, of course—was, “What if, to achieve the thing you wanted to do, something earth-shattering had to happen to you?” Let’s say, for you to see things differently, for you to really have something to say, someone you loved had to die in a car accident. Would you want all your dreams to come true if you knew that had to happen? It’s something I truly believe in—that we learn about ourselves most in those times and that we become something extraordinary in those times. Specifically, in our movie, when we started talking about DID [dissociative identity disorder] patients, I didn’t want to look at them as less than us. What’s so great about us? I’m not sure “normal” is that good.

When asked if he had to pay for his creativity with a tragic event, he admitted that he formulates his own tragedies in his fears:

My wife will tell you that I have lived a charmed life from the get-go, which is the truth. I can make a strong argument that I am the luckiest man on the planet. But I have a great capacity for worry. You know how they say that a coward dies a thousand deaths? I’m a coward. I’ve died thousands of times. Every time I’m on a plane, I’m sure that this is it. And you go through everything about what you should have done. It’s a twisted imaginary world that one lives in. I mean, I’m a fun-going guy, but I have this fear…”

You can read the full article here. It sounds like Shyamalan took a step back and looked hard at where he was at in filmmaking. Instead of forcing his stories with disastrous effect, he’s started tapping back into his own awe and fears, but ours as well.

M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, SPLIT, opens in theaters this January 20th.

Do you have a favorite M. Night Shyamalan film? How do you feel about the new Shyamalan renaissance? And will you be checking out SPLIT this weekend?


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