In the waning summer of 1999, The Sixth Sense was released in the United States and soon took the world by storm. There were just too many perfect combinations: the new catchphrase, the decade’s third-best twist (The Silence of the Lambs and The Usual Suspects as 1 and 2, respectively), and the pale little boy with just the right amount of cute and dread factors – all coming together to create the best horror film in years, and also a pop culture phenomenon.

Nearly $300 million domestic gross and six Academy Award nominations followed.  Even now, a decade later, we’re still talking about The Sixth Sense

The film was the writing and directorial brainchild of a man named Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan, better known as M. Night Shyamalan.  A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1992, Shyamalan achieved worldwide recognition in 1999 with Sense.

After Sense, Shyamalan was in talks with everyone, reputedly being tagged to direct the first adaptation of the “Harry Potter” series to co-directing the next Indiana Jones sequel with Steven Spielberg.  He made Unbreakable in 2001, a solid script that resulted in solid critics’ reviews, and followed it with the extraterrestrial Signs in the summer of 2002 starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, one of the highest-grossing movies of the year.

And then in 2004 he made The Village.

What’s bizarre, really, is that The Village is a movie that was supposed to be good.  It features a multitalented ensemble cast, brilliantly-made period costume and set design, and a whopper of an ending.

But it tanked.  Just like nowadays when people still comment on how great The Sixth Sense was, the same people groan when they hear The Village mentioned.  I personally never really understood where the hate came from.  Seeing it in theaters I was surprised by the number of boos, the negative catcalling.  Hell, it wasn’t the greatest movie, but I’d seen (and, believe me, have seen) many, many worse.

In 2006, Shyamalan made Lady in the Water, based on a bedtime story he used to tell his children about what happened in their pool at nights.  Slated to be the filmmaker’s magnum opus, Lady in the Water, in rough summary, involves a pool handyman that finds out that a sea nymph is responsible for the recent drain clogging.  The nymph wants to go back to her world, and isn’t alone.  She’s followed through the pool by horrible wolves made of moss called scrunts, evil simian “tarturics” and a giant eagle called an Eatlon. 

Paul Giamatti, easily one of the best actors to shine out in the new milennium, and Bryce Dallas Howard as the Lady in question (scrunts not pictured).

The movie sucked.

 I came out of the theater laughing, not able to believe the same director made a movie seven years ago that made me afraid of my own shadow.  Critics agreed, and word of mouth made the movie lose millions at the box office.

In 2008 Shyamalan’s latest film, The Happening, came out in theaters, the only one of Shyamalan’s movies I didn’t rush out to see.  That’s how much Lady in the Water affected me. 

Starring actor/rapper/comedian/professional bodybuilder Mark Wahlberg, The Happening detailed Wahlberg’s struggles to survive with his estranged wife in a world where foliage has decided to get back at humanity by releasing toxins that make them suicidal.   Shyamalan’s script made for some truly suicidal dialogue of its own, with the most horrendously wooden acting since Hayden Christensen in, well, mostly everything.

Shyamalan later admitted that he was pleased with the film, as he wanted to “make an excellent B movie”. 

Well, congrats.

I believe in directorial redemption, but the disappointment of Lady in the Water still reverberates within me to this day.  Thankfully I wasn’t really expecting anything from The Happening, Shyamalan’s first R-rated feature, but it still managed to be irritate me.  In the back of my mind I kept thinking – whatever happened to the man that wrote and directed The Sixth Sense?  Previous anonymous suggestions that Shyamalan plagiarized a large amount of his earlier work make me wonder now.

A critic after watching Lady in the Water wrote “if Shyamalan is going to use his kids as a focus group for future projects, maybe he should start making movies for Nickelodeon already and stop wasting our time.”

Ironically, Shyamalan’s next movie, coming out in 2010, brings the popular Nickelodeon television series Avatar: The Last Airbender to the big screen.  It’s called The Last Airbender.

Who’s excited?

Images courtesy of http://whatsontv.co.uk/blogs/movietalk/files/2008/11/ladyinthewater3.jpg and http://cdn.complex.com/assets/images/Entertainment/Features/062008/m-night-shyamalan-560.jpg, respectively.

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