Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan, also known as M. Night Shyamalan, has earned his auteur reputation with film productions such as “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, and “The Signs”. He is best known for his ability to create a thoroughly fictional world with unbelievable events. His style is well expressed through his films as most of his stories focus on the supernatural. In this respect, M. Night Shyamalan can easily manipulate the viewers’ expectations by means of mystical elements and breath-taking twists.
It can be claimed that M. Night Shyamalan achieved great success with the 1999 blockbuster “The Sixth Sense”. The narrative structure of the film could be interpreted from two quite different perspectives. On the one hand, Malcolm Crowe is a therapist, who survives a gun shot accident and tries to help Cole Sear, a very young and emotionally introverted child. On the other hand, the intensity that surrounds the entire storyline of the film keeps the audience in suspense until the very end of the film, only to reveal that Crowe has been murdered. The story then takes the viewers to a completely different dimension where Crowe’s presence is not physical anymore as he roams as a ghost who can be only seen by Cole. Indeed, it is the young Cole who helps Malcolm understand that he must leave his mournful life in the past and move on to take his place among the living dead. This is a perfect example of how M. Night Shyamalan can play games with the viewers’ expectations.
After the enormous success of “The Sixth Sense”, M. Night Shyamalan came back with yet another thrilling film. “Unbreakable” is a story about ordinary people looking for the supernatural element or event in their lives. Bruce Willis plays the role of David Dunn who soon realizes he has extraordinary abilities as a consequence of a train accident. The relationship between him and his son, Joseph, emphasizes the supernatural element as Joseph is very excited with the idea that his father is a real-life superhero. Meanwhile, David and his wife, Audrey, have to patch up their crumbling marriage. Sooner rather than later, however, David meets Elijah Price, played by Samuel Jackson, who thinks and actually tries to persuade David that he is, indeed, a modern-day superhero. M. Night Shyamalan succeeds again in surprising the audience with another twist in the plot. The viewers realize at the end of the film that Elijah has staged numerous disasters for the past few years in order for him to discover his superhero ego.
“Signs” is yet another example of a typically characteristic M. Night Shyamalan film. Released in 2002, the film explores a different supernatural phenomenon of crop circles that soon turn out to be an alien invasion of global scale. Hollywood star Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess who is a former minister of religion. As soon as his wife dies in a car accident, Graham decides to renounce his faith in God. Throughout the film Hess recollects the moment he saw his wife for the very last time and M. Night Shyamalan does an excellent job in conveying hidden messages. She talks to him about their family and asks him to tell his brother and a former baseball player, Merrill, to “swing away”. Although the audience might consider his wife’s death as a random event in the storyline, the film’s finale proves that it is not a random event after all. In the scene where the alien is about to kill his son, Graham again remembers the moment when he talked to his wife just before she died. It is then when she somehow managed to foresee the future and tell her beloved how to save his family. Therefore, M. Night Shyamalan presents a story of Graham’s moral passage from his loss in divine providence to the conditions that help him regain his religious faith again. It can be even argued that Graham is quite similar to Bruce Willis’s hero in “The Sixth Sense” who realizes and reconciles with the fact that he is a living dead man.
In addition, the three films share common storyline features and themes. In “The Sixth Sense” Crowe cannot realize that he is a ghost at first and in “Unbreakable” David does not believe in his extraordinary powers and learns from both his son and Elijah that he must embrace them and the responsibility that comes with them. In “Unbreakable” Shyamalan presents the human side of mystical events in quite a new theme where he illustrates how different people could be. In “Signs” Mel Gibson’s character questions his faith in God until the moment he understands that the circumstances, which helped him save his family, are not accidental. Indeed, “Signs” bears a strong religious theme as Graham Hess is being subjected to a test of what he actually believes in and why he believes it. Aided by a recovered memory and a supernatural occurrence, Graham Hess manages to revive his relationship with God.
Moreover, not only does M. Night Shyamalan pay attention to the storyline of all his films, but he also focuses on interpersonal relations. It is important to note the strong relationship between Malcolm and Cole in “The Sixth Sense”, David and his son, Joseph, in “Unbreakable”, and Graham with both his children Morgan and Bo as well as Merrill, his younger brother, with his nephew and niece in “Signs”. Another aspect of Shyamalan’s work is the slow pace he imposes on the plot. Malcolm Crowe gradually realizes that he is dead in “The Sixth Sense”, David Dunn gradually sees the superhuman powers he has in “Unbreakable”, and Graham Hess gradually rediscovers his faith in God in “Signs”.
Also, in order to establish a stronger and more emotional bond between the characters, M. Night Shyamalan uses long-take shots. For example, in “The Sixth Sense” shot duration helps him build up emotional bonds not only between Malcolm and Cole, but also between Cole and his mother, Lynn. There is also a scene in “Unbreakable” which is a direct analogue of the one that takes place at the “Anniversary Dinner” restaurant in “The Sixth Sense” with the only exception being that David Dunn is alive as he talks to his wife, Audrey. M. Night Shyamalan makes use of long-take shots in “Signs” as well in order to highlight the strong bond between the two brothers. The most notable scene between Graham and Merrill is when they sit before the television set and have a long conversation, in which they share their feelings on the menacing alien invasion and what they believe in. In such dialogue scenes, long-take shots are the most appropriate visual tool that can cast further emphasis on the strong emotional relationships between the main characters.
Furthermore, M. Night Shyamalan uses windows, glasses, and mirrors as symbols for thematic reasons in most of his films. For example, in “The Sixth Sense” M. Night Shyamalan uses parallel shots and mirror images in a scene where Crowe’s wife, Anna, appears with a bottle of wine in order for them to celebrate the award Malcolm has earned for outstanding achievement in the field of child therapy. Sitting in front of the fireplace they both enjoy it sarcastically, with their images reflected in the glass encased award. Shyamalan shows Malcolm and Anna as well as their reflection in parallel shots with purpose. The mirror image symbolizes the false reality of Crowe who soon becomes a reflection of himself.
In addition, reflected images take an important part in “Signs” as well. When Graham comes out of the basement he feels as if the aliens are already gone and everything is back to normal again. It is then when he goes to take the television set from the closet and rolls it back into the living room. The timing of the scene turns into a powerful device as it only contributes to the one of the most horrifying scenes in the film. As soon as Graham brings the television set, there is a loud sound which emphasizes the terrifying revelation of an alien reflected on the screen. Similar shots are used in “Unbreakable” where the image of Elijah Price is reflected on a television set as well. It is an indisputable fact that the great amount of themes Shyamalan uses in his films reflects his directing style.
Last but not least, M. Night Shyamalan makes cameo appearances in most of his films. In “The Sixth Sense” he appears as a doctor and shows in quite a short scene with Cole’s mother. In “Unbreakable” he plays the role of a drug dealer at a stadium, while in “Signs” Shyamalan takes a bigger part as Ray Reddy, the veterinarian who is accused guilty by Graham of the car accident, in which Graham’s wife died.
In conclusion, the slow pace and mystical elements constitute the plots as well as the characters in M. Night Shyamalan’s films. This is what appears to be his signature and philosophy in terms of directing and this is why I think his films are far better than the ordinary horror and thriller films. In addition to the visual technique, he also makes use of mystical elements and ambiguity in such a way that the storyline can easily get under the viewers’ skin and hold suspension until the very end