It's been interesting, as a fan of director M. Night Shyamalan, to gauge the critical and fan response to his films over the years. Most folks seem to adore The Sixth Sense and abhor Lady in the Water - a consensus that remains consistent down through the years. But the early popularity of Signs seems to have devolved into nit-picking over the science-fiction elements, and his best film to date, Unbreakable, has gradually found acceptance in the indie scene while alienating mainstream film goers with its slow, moody pacing (notice that I didn't even bring The Village into this conversation ... *shudder*)
For my money, a love that Night acknowledges the supernatural while most films these days try to squeeze the same wonder out of "natural" means, but with little affect. Still, it's easy to see, fan or not, that his films are breaking more and more rules and creating a niche market rather than the wide-spread appeal his budgets mandate.
The most vivid example of this is Lady in the Water, a filmmakers wet dream packaged in a studio nightmare. As a filmmaker I loved every bizarre moment of that film, from the self-referential storyline to the drastically off-balance framing. But the average joe hates it, and I'm talking a level of hate normally reserved for The Hulk or Southland Tales.
And from early reports, the same will be true of his latest flick, The Happening. Although, if the clips I've seen online are any indication, this might break the wonderous spell that Night has had over me for close to a decade.
And here's my proof from the internet - a step by step comparison of the average ratings of M. Night films from Rotten Tomatoes. Let there be no arguments, this does NOT bode well for Night's career:
84% - The Sixth Sense
Consensus: M Night Shayamalan's The Sixth Sense is a twisty ghost story with all the style of a classical Hollywood picture, but all the chills of a modern horror flick.
68% - Unbreakable
Consensus: With a weaker ending, Unbreakable is not as a good as The Sixth Sense. However, it is a quietly suspenseful film that intrigues and engages, taking the audience through unpredictable twists and turns along the way.
74% - Signs
Consensus: With Signs, Shyamalan proves once again an expert at building suspense and giving audiences the chills.
42% - The Village
Consensus: The Village is appropriately creepy, but Shyamalan's signature twist ending disappoints.
24% - Lady in the Water
Consensus: A far-fetched story with little suspense and unconvincing scenarios, Lady In The Water feels contrived, pretentious, and rather silly.
14% - The Happening