As The Last Airbender tumbleweeds its way through the cinemas of the West, you have to wonder at what point M Night Shyamalan’s career will just stop. Not slow down. Not get to the point where it’s just embarrassing (we’re already there). Just flat out stop.
The title might momentarily delight us Brits, but it doesn’t save The Last Airbender (smirk) from being the latest in a long line of frankly disappointing movies from Mm… Night.
But that’s it now, surely? It’s over, right? Apparently not.
Devil, a forthcoming horror film that sees several strangers trapped in a lift together, is not a Shyamalan film, but according to the marketing, it is a product of his mind. Here’s the trailer:
If like me, this proclamation doesn’t fill you with cautious excitement, you could always hope that M’s input extends no further than the trailer’s statement that: “everything (whoosh) happens (whoosh) for. a. reason,” (which is also the central tenet from Signs). But this is Shyamalan, and sadly, I abandoned all hope, by degrees, from Unbreakable onwards.
In a post Airbender world, “From the mind of M. Night Shyamalan” is about as appealing a phrase as “From the pants of John McCririck” or “from the childhood memories of Mel Gibson…”
Like Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) after him, Shyamalan seems to have got lucky with the Sixth Sense, and in that heady time, he borrowed our hope, and never gave it back. And far from moving on to pastures new, he stuck around, leaving our peripheries besmirched by the omnipresent bumcrack of his subsequent failures.
I’m really not convinced about the whole producer/director endorsement thing. I might be wrong about this, but I certainly would like to meet the person who cares that the director of the Spider-Man films will allow a so-so horror remake of The Grudge out of the stable. Nor should anyone care if the guy who did the majority of the shouting on the sets of the Pirates films is on shouting duties on the next eight National Treasure films (although Nic Cage pretending to be drunk and speaking in mock English is always welcome).
In fact, the one instance I can remember of this sales tactic actually working goes too far; many people have told me that they really enjoyed The Orphanage (dir: Juan Antonio Bayona), and that yes, it might even be their favourite Guillermo Del Toro film. Yeah! In your face, Bayona! Where has your brilliant handling of tone and genre shocks got you now, eh?
At best, such poster-friendly footnotes seem more for the benefit of critics (who know already and don’t really care) or uber-niche film nuts (who possibly care too much). But if these tactics do work, then surely it takes actual success to drum up expectation? Surely “from the mind of M Night. Shyamalan” isn’t quite what we’re looking for as an audience? It’s like looking at the specials board in a McDonalds.
The logical conclusions are a bit depressing (“from the director of Transformers 2”) but if such lofty praise as “from the writers of Saw IV, V and VI” is deemed fit for purpose to sell a film like The Collector, then maybe Shyamalan shouldn’t have too much to worry about any time soon.