A new film from M Night Shyamalan, the horror, the horror

Old, 2021.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cin­e­ma, Be afraid, be very afraid… Are these the 7 most ter­ri­fy­ing words in mod­ern cin­e­ma; a new film from M Night Shya­malan?

Shya­malan burst on to the scene with his third fea­ture, The Sixth Sense, which he wrote and direct­ed in 1999 at the ten­der age of 29. I remem­ber watch­ing that film and think­ing, what on earth is all the fuss about? But then it deliv­ers its end­ing, and I thought, in fair­ness, that was gen­uine­ly surprising.

The Sixth Sense, 1999.

So I sat down to watch his next film, Unbreak­able, from 2000, in a mood of qui­et excite­ment. And, like the pre­vi­ous film, it ambles along in a per­fect­ly inof­fen­sive man­ner for four fifths of its dura­tion, before deliv­er­ing what was sim­i­lar­ly intend­ed to be a killer blow. But blow alas is the appro­pri­ate term. Instead of explain all that had gone on before, all the end­ing did was to under­mine and cheap­en it.

Next up was Signs, a sub-Spiel­ber­gian tale of awe and won­der which was so con­ven­tion­al, con­ser­v­a­tive, ham-fist­ed and ill-con­ceived it was hard to know what to think. Worse, that cute cameo he’s always reward­ed him­self with was here allowed to morph into a ful­ly-fledged speak­ing part. And not a small one at that. What on earth were we to make of him? 

The Vil­lage, 2004.

But that was swift­ly cleared up by the two films that came next. The Vil­lage, from 2004, is not so much an homage to The Cru­cible as it is a vio­lent assault on it. On to its basic back­drop Shya­malan inserts a series of pedes­tri­an twists that are as drea­ri­ly pre­dictable as they are improb­a­ble. And for the first time, we get a clear pic­ture as to quite how poor a screen­writer he is. 

But it’s with his next film, Lady in the Water, from 2006, that any ambi­gu­i­ty as to the man’s gifts was cleared up once and for all. This was so bad­ly writ­ten that it went on an almost unique jour­ney from mes­mer­i­cal­ly bad, to so-bad-it’s‑good, and on beyond to so irre­deemably bad that it became lit­er­al­ly unwatchable. 

I last­ed for the first 25 min­utes or so, until it was revealed that the per­son who was, wait for it, going to save human­i­ty, was in fact…  a writer! And that that writer was played by none oth­er than… Our very own writer direc­tor him­self. Once I’d recov­ered from a pro­tract­ed fit of gig­gling, I’m afraid I got up and left. 

Lady in the Water, 2006.

But there is one invalu­able ser­vice that that film serves. For any writer out there con­vinced that what they’re work­ing on is beneath worth­less, all they need do is watch Lady in the Water, and they’ll imme­di­ate­ly feel bet­ter about them­selves. It’s the per­fect tonic.

So I’ve not seen his lat­est mag­num opus, Old. But I can’t wait. By all accounts, it’s anoth­er gem from the pen of every writer’s very best friend. I’m sav­ing it up for a spe­cial occasion. 

In the mean­time, here’s the trail­er for Old.

And here’s the trail­er for Lady in the Water.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!