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Watch: Was ‘The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan’ The End Of This Fauxteur?

by Edward Davis
June 5, 2013 1:24 PM
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For this writer, one of the most egregious statements a magazine ever made about a filmmaker was in 2002 when Newsweek called M. Night Shyamalan the “Next Spielberg.The surprise twists of his films were gimmicks and never had much substantive weight emotionally or otherwise (other than similar narrative tricks of a shock jock). “The Sixth Sense” is a one trick pony, deeply overrated and doesn’t hold up once you know the gag, “Unbreakable” is better genre piece, but I still don’t get the fuss and “Signs” was never particularly special either. But as big global hits ($672 million worldwide for ‘Sense,’ $408 million for “Signs,” though “Unbreakable” failed to gross more than $100 million domestically), I suppose I can see why, from a financial perspective Newsweek might have thought Shyamalan might continue to be a big crowd-pleasing blockbuster filmmaker.

But it didn't really happen. While some of the films were still relative financial successes, everything post-"Signs" took a backslide at the box-office, and some of them like "Lady in the Water" and "The Happening" were absolutely reviled and mocked by critics (the latter ended up on many year-end worst lists). The filmmaker’s latest, “After Earth,” debuted at number three at the box-office despite starring one of the world’s biggest actors Will Smith. So many are rightfully asking, "What’s wrong with Smith’s career?" and to a lesser extent, "Can Shyamalan’s career get much worse?"

Where did it all go wrong? Well, even though it was a relative under-performer, 2004’s “The Village” was Shyamalan’s last hit and many regard it as the point the filmmakers hubris had gone far beyond his head. There are many pieces of evidence of this, but a recent excellent Vulture article reminds us of perhaps the most flagrant example. A 2004 Sci-Fi channel pseudo-documentary titled “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan," and it’s quite the glowing, puff-piece hagiography. Meant to create buzz as a lead up to “The Village,” the documentary interviews Shyamalan, his family, friends, various co-workers and essentially tries to uncover where this filmmaker’s preternatural genius came from. It’s not subtle.

Here’s the first kicker. Directed by Nathaniel Kahn, it’s a authorized big blow-job until the documentarian begins to dig up parts of Shyamalan past he doesn’t want revealed, and he then refuses to cooperate with the filmmaker and angrily breaks off all ties.

Here’s the 2nd kicker, and more of a kick in the balls actually. This was all fabricated by Shyamalan and Kahn as essentially a publicity stunt for “The Village.” It was presented as an unauthorized bio of the "reclusive" director, but turned out to be another self-absorbed project disguised as self-aware satire and pre-promotion for the film. Weeks before it had even aired, Shyamalan had apparently shat on the documentary publicly to bring attention to it. Narcissism much? That’s a bizarrely self-involved ruse and how he thought it would go over well when word inevitably leaked... who knows what he was thinking.

As Vulture astutely writes: “It’s a fascinating look into how Shyamalan wants to be perceived....In this version of his life, everyone is in awe of him...And the movie isn't shy about suggesting Shyamalan's supernatural power.” It’s all a little bit sick and twisted when you think about it, Shyamalan and Kahn essentially trying to burnish the Shyamalan brand by adding to his mystique.

Here’s another excerpt from Vulture:

Early on in Buried Secret, Shyamalan is asked, "What is it like to be so successful so young?" He replies sheepishly: "It feels like I can't just make a movie. It has to connect in some unusual fashion for it to be appropriate [for me]. Otherwise," he says, "it's just a movie."

Hat tip again to Vulture, this thing is just utterly... a train-wreck that’s hard not to watch. Also, let’s not forget that this is the same man who basically commissioned a shrill and whiny propaganda book about why mean ol' Disney couldn't understand the genius of "The Lady In The Water," called "The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale." We're not making that up -- Disney, who had bankrolled all of Shyamalan’s films for a long run, basically bailed on him after “The Lady In The Water.”

In an excellent and rather hilarious New York Times article in 2006, the Grey Lady called the book, “a work about the making of the new film... the book so echoes its subject’s point of view (he’s the sensitive artiste, misunderstood by his old studio, Disney) that it reads like an act of ventriloquism." Did the Emperor always have no clothes? Decide for yourself and watch some clips from “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan” below.

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  • Oliver | June 21, 2013 5:02 AMReply

    There are directors who turn out masterpiece after masterpiece over decades; and there are directors who are hailed and lionised after making a couple of undeniably-excellent movies — Martin Brest, Michael Cimino, Jan De Bont, Hal Hartley, Michael Lehmann — only to creatively fade away thereafter, for any number of personal and professional reasons.

    Now, making one or two undeniably-excellent movies may still put Shyamalan (and Brest, and Cimino...) in a better category than most directors, but it’s time to accept that he belongs in the latter group and not the former. In fact the latter category is *far* more populated than the first, throughout film history.

    Personally I blame a lot of this fanboyishness on a simplistic and sycophantic interpretation of the auteur theory: that directors are inexhaustible and indefatigable sources of artisanal genius whose every film must be defended.

  • smart kid says what? | June 6, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    "M. Night's... the other side." HAHAHAHA

  • Tania Cinque | June 6, 2013 1:51 AMReply

    So the big secret was that Shyamalan was a conceited blowhole who sucked the whole time? I'm glad people are finally coming to terms with that.

  • JOHN | June 5, 2013 6:36 PMReply

    This article is just kind of a mean rant. I haven't seen his last few films but I quite enjoyed M. Night's first couple, as I am sure many of you used to before it became cool to hate on him when his output quality varied (then stunk). Many filmmakers make popcorn fluff, but most don't pull off the level of word-of-mouth excitement "The Sixth Sense" did. I think it's OK to appreciate movies with a good twist. I own Sixth and Unbreakable and I am not embarrassed to return to them after knowing the twists. He's not the only filmmaker to use a plot twist. They are fun movies. I'm not throwing them out because the majority have jumped on the bandwagon of hate. And the guy made a tie-in promotion video/mock doc. Wow. That's something you NEVER see filmmakers do these days!

  • Joseph A Bancs | June 6, 2013 1:03 AM

    Agreed. The entire article left a sour taste in my mouth... from the first paragraph that tries to imply Unbreakable was a flop as "it didn't even make $100M US"... the film made $95M US so its not as if it tanked and it ended up at $250M worldwide, which for an original idea is insane. Consider Looper, a similar film a decade later made $100M less.

    Signs is a fine film too, and I would defend the Village and Lady in the Water as respectable entries into his CV. I don't really understand the hatred towards Shyamalan.

    And oh yeah, Vulture posted this exact same article a week ago....

  • Rollin | June 5, 2013 6:35 PMReply

    What is the purpose of this article ? What are you trying to do exactly ? I would understand if the guy was praised and you clearly thought it was underserved, and you would like to try to make a statement to balance it out. But the guy is panned like nobody else and he is even violently rejected both by critics and most moviegoers just at the mention of his name, unfairly in my opinion compared to other much worse and harmful blockbuster filmmakers, but that's another subject. What more could you possibly want ? End his life ? Attacking a man already down, is that what you call brave and relevant ? I don't. In fact, at this point, the only relevant article to write about Shyamalan would be either to ask the question why so much hate is focused on this man and his movies or to simply defend him. Here, you just add consensus on consensus and it is completely pointless since you already reviewed the movie.

    I too rarely see your blog strongly criticizing established and beloved auteurs and filmmakers getting acclaim for uninteresting works. That would take a lot more balls and certainly would make for more interesting debates around what is perceived as bad and good cinema and where do you/we stand on that issue. You are even quite feeble in that area. Is there no one in your staff who thinks guys like Nolan or Abrams make truly shitty movies ? If not, especially in the case of Abrams, I pity your critical abilities.

  • Fanboy Hater | June 5, 2013 7:46 PM

    Very true. Indiewire's pandering to their fanboy roots is quite sickening at times. Nolan's last 3 films were terrible, Avengers was disgustingly bad, Ben Wheatley's films bore the pants off me, Drive was sh*t and OGF's looks pretty much the same, but soaked in neon. Also, the suckbutting of JJ Abrams is also a concern, as it's sites like this universally praising the dire, generic plotting and sub standard acting in his 2 Star Trek films, that have lead him to get the gig on not 1 but 3 Star Wars movies. What Lucas did with the prequels was akin your favourite uncle touching you inappropriately, what JJ may take up the mantle and lock us in a basement for a decade. I hope I'm wrong...

    By the way, MNS sucks and I have hated his output for a while. But, why attempt to heap destruction on someone's career that is already broken down to sub-atomic level.

    Also, and finally, 6th Sense holds up quite well during repeat viewings, perhaps not quite in the same vein as Fight Club, but you can't tell me you didn't need a nurse to change your soiled man (or lady) pants when you first saw and were completely duped by it. You can't tell me you didn't go back into the cinema to watch it again or stand in line at Blockbuster the day it was released on VHS???

  • Glass | June 5, 2013 6:17 PMReply


    I can't believe I never watched this before

  • lemon | June 5, 2013 5:01 PMReply

    The Sixth Sense sucked. No child would continue to eat soup that makes her sick. The movie sucked the first time I saw it and still sucks to this day. M. Night should be called Night M. as in Night Mare.

  • Jacob | June 5, 2013 5:01 PMReply

    Another day, another blogger trying to make a name for themselves by trashing Shyamalan. Do you get a special bonus or something for mentioning his name in every other post? It's cool that you've progressed from the tedious "Sixth Sense is his only good movie" argument to "none of his movies were good to begin with" rhetoric but aren't we all pretty much over this by now. What is this, 2008? Let it go, man. Personally, I don't understand the concept of hating a director when you're under no obligation to see any of their films to begin with, but unless you've got serious bullying issues, it seems even more pointless to hate someone already universally despised. Aren't these posts a bit like kicking a cripple's crutches at this point. He's finished. Move on. Be a proper critic and spend your time promoting and discussing the movies you actually enjoy and find worthy of praise. Surely there's some irony in these mediocre, barely readable wannabe critics attacking a mediocre, barely watchable director. I mean, aren't you bloggers pretty much the M. Night of critics?

  • a guy named joe | June 6, 2013 9:37 AM

    As long as Shyamalan continues to shit out his terrible movies, critics are allowed to trash them. Criticism hurts, especially when it's deserved. But criticism is also very much necessary when you have egotistical, talentless blowteurs like Shyamalan serving up crap on a platter. Have you seen The Last Airbender?

  • sam | June 5, 2013 4:32 PMReply

    "“The Sixth Sense” is a one trick pony, deeply overrated and doesn’t hold up once you know the gag,"

    how the hell do you come up with that last part and call it an argument against a film? once you know the twist, the film isn't that interesting? well, the twist is there; how does the movie play if you don't know the ending? that's how it was conceived. ps. i'm not even a fan of his, but come on. this is lame-bashing.

  • Sean | June 5, 2013 7:29 PM

    Salo is a shocking film on the first go. It's also a good film. But the shock factor dwindles upon repeat. The flow and story keep it afloat.
    Sixth Sense is the same. Even though the twist is expected, the story and performances are still good.
    Ed is just trying to be cool and original for hating every M Night movie.

  • Erik | June 5, 2013 6:52 PM

    I disagree with that - any really good movie will hold up well on second or third or umpteenth watch. If it doesn't, and I'd agree with the article's author that Sixth Sense doesn't...that means the twist is all there is to it, and that makes it a mediocre movie at best.

  • yer | June 5, 2013 1:46 PMReply

    Didn't he say people didn't get his films because they were too 'European?' Yea, if by 'European' you mean 'Awful' then I agree.

  • Oliver | June 21, 2013 5:04 AM

    The same Cahiers du Cinema who said the single best film of the whole 90s was... 'Carlito's Way'.

    Just sayin'.

  • cattt | June 5, 2013 3:46 PM

    I'm european and I can safely say that his films suck.

  • zatopek | June 5, 2013 2:47 PM

    Hey, Cahiers du Cinema put Lady in the Water in their top 10 of the year among new movies by Resnais, Straub & Huillet etc.

  • Daryl Hannah | June 5, 2013 1:43 PMReply

    Don't forget his acting turn in Lady in the Water as a writer destined to change humanity. and Bob Balaban's film critic character.

  • Gustavo H.R. | June 5, 2013 1:33 PMReply

    Oh, boy. Another trash piece attacking Shyamalan - and a revisionist one at that. "Oh, I never really thought he was that great to begin with! I don't get all the fuss yadda yadda yadda...".

    You can say something about his "end" after he dies or retires. Everything else is just hot air.

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