The Columbus Dispatch
‘Knock at the Cabin’ and every M. Night Shyamalan film ranked, lows to highs
The Twistmaster General is back. Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan turns a woody hideaway into a biblical chiller with his new psychological thriller “Knock at the Cabin” (in theaters Friday). It’s the latest in a roller coaster of an IMDB filmography (raise your hand if you knew Shyalaman wrote “Stuart Little”) that’s filled with plot surprises and turns aplenty, usually for better but sometimes for worse.
In honor of “Knock,” let’s rank the highs and lows of Shyamalan’s bigscreen fare. (Not included: His 1992 debut – and starring vehicle – “Praying With Anger,” which played the film-festival circuit and isn’t available on streaming platforms.)
14. ‘The Happening’ (2008)
“What if plant life tried to kill us?” is kind of a neat horror concept, and Shyamalan opens this thing like gangbusters, with chilling shots of people falling to their deaths. But the execution wasn’t there, the acting really wasn’t there (Mark Wahlberg actually converses with a houseplant) and the whole thing turned out to be a silly ecological disaster.
13. ‘The Last Airbender’ (2010)
The one time Shyamalan ventured into other people’s stories proves he should never do that again. This fantasy adventure based on the cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is purely kids’ stuff – and not even good stuff, with bad special effects and horrendous dialogue plaguing the tale of a boy who can “bend” air, water and fire and save the world.
12. ‘After Earth’ (2013)
Will Smith and son Jaden starred in this joyless sci-fi vanity project about a father and son centuries into the future, after mankind has left Earth, to only crash-land back on the ol’ home planet and survive all sorts of craziness. The elder Smith once called it “excruciating” and “the most painful failure of my career” (though he hadn’t seen “Collateral Beauty” yet, obviously.)
11. ‘Wide Awake’ (1998)
This might be news to some but Shyamalan did a kids’ comedy. With Rosie O’donnell. About finding the Lord. (We’re not kidding.) The film’s cheesy late-‘90s look belies the rather uplifting existential quest of a 10-year-old Catholic school boy (Joseph Cross) who after the death of his grandpa (Robert Loggia) seeks to talk with God with the help of a Phillies-loving nun (O’donnell).
10. ‘Lady in the Water’ (2006)
Paul Giamatti runs a Philadelphia apartment complex and Bryce Dallas Howard is a water nymph who shows up in his pool needing to be protected from a monstrous wolf by the place’s misfit residents. Shyamalan’s attempt at a modern fairy tale isn’t a completely terrible effort though some of the aspects lean a little ridiculous.
9. ‘Glass’ (2019)
The anticipated follow-up to “Unbreakable” and “Split” is a well-made but frustrating attempt to close out a “superheroes are among us” tale.
Third-act swerves are more confusing than revelatory, though fans of the earlier films get lots of screen time with their main men (Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and James Mcavoy) in a mental facility, and it’s a letdown to what could have been a great three-film ode to comic books.
8. ‘Old’ (2021)
If you already weren’t afraid of aging and mortality, Shyamalan goes the extra unnerving mile with this middling thriller that at least boasts an intriguing thirdact reveal.
A swanky island resort sends a group of tourists to a secluded beach, though they don’t get the memo that it’s pretty much the opposite of the fountain of youth, leading to chaos, death, lots of screaming and, in the case of some kids, puberty and growing up way too fast.
7. ‘The Village’ (2004)
The story of 19th-century Pennsylvania villagers afraid of mysterious creatures living in the woods seems to be the dividing line where folks either went with Shyamalan or struggled against his twisty nature. But the reveal here, which comes as a result of a blind girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) seeking help for her wounded love (Joaquin Phoenix), not only works but also adds considerable emotional depth.
6. ‘The Visit’ (2015)
The current Shyamalaissance started here with this clever low-budget thriller about two teenagers visiting the grandparents they’ve never met and finding all manner of strangeness during their very freaky stay.
The filmmaker pulls off the very simple concept with style, and the signature Shyamalan swerve, while not shocking, is pretty great.
5. ‘Knock at the Cabin’ (2023)
A group of strangers disrupts the woodsy peace and quiet of two dads and their daughter, takes them hostage and makes them choose: sacrifice a family member or bring upon a destructive apocalypse. With a fantastic performance by Dave Bautista as the conflicted main antagonist, Shymalan asks heady questions with his provocative thriller about embracing hope and empathy in the face of existential doom.
4. ‘Split’ (2017)
Even if this wasn’t a secret “Unbreakable” sequel, it’s a fantastic psychological thriller with rather deep themes about those who are seen as “broken.” James Mcavoy is aces playing the nine different identities of Kevin Wendell Crumb, a troubled sort who kidnaps three teenage girls, and the final confrontation between his Beast personality and victim Casey (Anya Taylor-joy) makes the movie.
3. ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999)
Yes, the surprise ending is an all-timer – and one that probably wouldn’t have been effective in a social-media world that picks apart everything. What’s really cool about the story of Haley Joel Osment’s embattled boy who can see ghosts and Bruce Willis’ stoic child psychologist is how it straddles hope and tragedy, plus is still wholly watchable even when you know the infamous revelation.
2. ‘Unbreakable’ (2000)
Shyamalan was doing great superhero flicks before Iron Man and Captain America came along. A somber affair, “Unbreakable” is a love letter to comics with its pair of origin stories plus a couple of icons: Willis as a train-wreck survivor turned reluctant, somewhat immortal hero, and Jackson as a comic-loving, totally breakable mastermind.
1. ‘Signs’ (2002)
An alien-invasion movie that’s really not about extraterrestrials at all, Shyamalan’s sci-fi classic takes an insular look at the familiar trope by focusing the drama within a family’s walls rather than on what’s happening outside (though the latter does affect the former). “Signs” follows one man’s redemption (Mel Gibson’s former reverend, who lost his faith following a tragedy) to a climax that probably shows a little too much. Still, Shyamalan is at the height of his Hitchcock-meets-spielberg powers. (Just don’t make a sequel, please.)