M. Night Shyamalan has been subjected to a critical rollercoaster, even by his own fanbase. It can be fun and easy to indulge negativity, but there’s more than enough of that going around. Let’s review some of Shyamalan’s most iconic sequences.
Even though some might wholeheartedly reject his writing, he’s consistently proven to have a skilled eye for camerawork. Also, he’s developed his own appealing brand— ultimately, a reserved and thematically ambitious approach to genre films. Shyamalan remains a gifted film-maker, a master of the incredible twist ending, and his works are always sure to surprise viewers. Watch out for spoilers!
10 The Village: Monster In The Woods
The Village was the first outright rejected Shyamalan film, which is really a shame. Firstly, the movie was poorly marketed as a straight-up monster movie. Also, Shyamalan’s reputation probably misled people too. Unfortunately, not everyone responded particularly well to his prior film.
Nevertheless, the movie boasts has a beautiful score by James Newton Howard, and certainly a stand-out performance from Bryce Dallas Howard. In this scene, the lovelorn Noah attacks Howard’s protagonist Ivy in the woods. The setting is inherently creepy, a primal and isolated place, the practical effects are compelling, and the monstrous sounds are guttural and disconcerting. What really makes this scene memorable is the tragedy of Noah’s death.
9 Split: The Horde
The Academy has it in for genre films, because James McAvoy deserved an Oscar for Split. His various personalities are profoundly distinct, not only by their voices, but with their body language. The story is revealed to exist in a totally fictional universe of superheroes.
McAvoy is one of the few actors that could sell a scene like this so convincingly. He shuffles through a few different characters in a single scene, as they battle for control—“the light.” It’s a truly stunning, unsettling moment that showcases McAvoy’s range. The different personalities also escalate the tension throughout, by altering the circumstances. The so-called “Horde” reveals a shotgun and asks for death, details plans, and finally becomes The Beast.
8 Signs: Musings On Coincidence
Signs gets a bad reputation for its twist ending. Truthfully, though, the weakness to water always felt like a simple nod to War of the Worlds. The aliens meet their comeuppance in an unexpected way, which they should’ve anticipated. It’s easy to forget that the film has stunning performances, one of Howard’s best compositions, and masterful creative direction.
Yet, for all of the thrills in an alien invasion, it’s thematically intriguing. Shyamalan bluntly spells it out in this superb scene—do you believe in coincidences? Both Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson answer that difficult question with fantastic monologues, respectively humorous and deeply moving.
7 Unbreakable: Bench Pressing
Unbreakable was quite ahead of its time, certainly regarding the superhero business today. Unfortunately, its slow pace made it inaccessible to some. Still, the writing is witty, the performances are incredible, and the camerawork is truly inventive. The particularly meticulous camera is likely due to the comic book influence. It effectively captures the essence of a book’s panels.
This origin story both understands and adores comics. The film is entirely about self-discovery, and how the absence of true purpose can be mercilessly ruinous. So, the first time protagonist David tests his limits at the workout bench is especially memorable. The music for the climactic lift is phenomenal, and the scene balances fun humor with genuine excitement. We urgently want David to be a superhero, and he discovers that truth using an everyday exercise we can imagine for ourselves.
6 Split: Twist Ending
The Visit had more or less warmed people back up to Shyamalan after a decade of critical punishment. He returned to the smaller, intimate stories that he always thrived in. Using that formula for Split resulted in a compelling thriller with grounded supernatural elements.
After Shyamalan’s first Hollywood hit, he became known for twist endings. He’s incorporated more than a few, to various degrees of success. This time, he totally revolutionized the twist—because it’s actually a reveal. The ending instantly forgives the improbable moments, and delivers the long-awaited sequel to Unbreakable. It’s a genuine, welcome surprise that changes the context of the entire film, like any good twist. Only then does it become clear why the central characters are broken people.
5 Signs: You’ll Lose The Signal
It’s always impressive when a genre film like this can frighten you in broad daylight. More than delivering thrills, though, this scene really captures a sense of wonder. Until this point, the family has been unwilling to fully entertain the possibility of the alien threat as reality.
When the baby monitor starts to pick up an alien signal, the mystery is too intriguing. The direction is totally engaging, and the audio design is ominous. What’s truly clever about this scene is that it establishes the baby monitor as a crucial tool of suspense. Later on, this once profound experience becomes the signal for a home intrusion.
4 Signs: Birthday Party Intruder
Shyamalan spends the majority of the film hiding his aliens from plain view. The sense of mystery is ramped up by various close encounters beforehand. Then, in a claustrophobic closet, Joaquin Phoenix’s character is glued to a television and witnesses the true alien form.
In one of many nods to The Birds, the first blatant intrusion of the supernatural occurs at a child’s birthday party. That found-footage element really pays off the anticipation, and a brief moment of humor with Phoenix provides good pacing. The music is perfect, the alien design is eerie, and the abrupt full view is shocking. More so, the extreme panic from the eyewitnesses is very immersive and disturbing.
3 Unbreakable: The Orange Man
Unbreakable is an origin story, and a fascinating one at that. The journey is so engrossing that it absolutely required a strong payoff. In this scene, David Dunn finally becomes a superhero. He collected visions at the stadium workplace, and after seeing clues relating to a serial killer, he tracks the criminal down. David even dons the security outfit as a superhero costume of sorts.
A family is at risk, and during the battle to rescue them, David is thrown directly into his weakness—a pool of water. The physical struggle with the killer is brutal, with an extensive choke scene as the music swells. The imperfect rescue tragically ends with the mother dying. This universe is much like ours, beating many superhero movies to that conceit.
2 The Sixth Sense: I See Dead People
The Sixth Sense is an astonishing film, including some innovative camerawork and one of the best child performances of all time. That alone is one of the reasons this scene is so famous in pop culture. The premise of this film is not original, but the approach to the psychic phenomena is sincere to an unprecedented degree.
It doesn’t feel gimmicky and it delivers a level of authenticity that many films about the paranormal don’t bother to. In this scene, the protagonist finally gets his patient to reveal the secret that literally haunts him. The boy’s deeply emotional description of the phenomena sets up one of the most brilliant twist endings in the history of film.
1 The Sixth Sense: They Don’t Know They’re Dead
The ending of The Sixth Sense became a legendary staple of pop culture and horror. It was also a maneuver that basically secured Shyamalan’s entire career. The twist completely rearranges the context of every scene with the protagonist throughout the entire film. But most importantly, every clue that you needed to solve the twist was hidden in plain sight. That’s what makes for the most intelligent mysteries and twists.
It’s also a tremendously heartbreaking scene, as Dr. Crowe speaks with his wife one last time before moving on. It’s bittersweet, both hopeful and tragic, and deeply moving. Closing on that note, rather than the shock of the big reveal, encapsulates the entire film.