Anghus Houvouras on whether there’s still interest in an Unbreakable sequel…
In the year 2000 there might not have been a bigger M. Night Shyamalan fan than yours truly. The Sixth Sense was a sucker punch of a movie; I didn’t see the quality or the cultural zeitgeist coming. I remember buying a ticket with zero expectations having heard none of the hype. I can remember a 30 second spot with Haley Joel Osment saying “I see dead people” and a shot of Bruce Willis yelling at a car that drives by; the product of a marketing department trying to sell a deliberately slow drama as having moments of thriller like tension.
Like so many others, The Sixth Sense was an amazing experience. A wonderful film with great performances and an amazing ending for those of us who didn’t see it coming. Unbreakable was a movie that seemed less transformative to mainstream ticket buyers, but to me the movie was just as good (if not better) than The Sixth Sense.
Shyamalan seemed poised to be the next big voice in blockbuster cinema. Someone who could craft intelligent, emotional stories for the masses. Signs was a divisive film for many film fans, the first that started the conversation about ridiculous leaps of logic to help sell the narrative. I loved the film, and still like it a lot. For me, the nitpicky gripes about Signs were fair but overstated. However, it started to lay the foundation for more questionable creative choices that would become constantly referenced by his critics.
The Village is a movie that is genuinely reviled by film fans. The movie that made everyone question Shyamalan’s judgement. Almost immediately his critics felt armed with salient examples of his poor judgement. Reasonable fans (myself included) were able to admit the film was flawed but still defend the movie for its successes.
His career had been crippled and his cleverness brought into question. Culturally, his talents and filmmaking skills had been reduced to the simple ‘Shyamalan twist’. Pharrell Williams once described a moment where someone recognized him and tried to describe his sound. They were able to do so in such simple terms that Williams realized he had to go back to the drawing board and work on a new sound. That story comes to mind when I think about Shyamalan’s next few films.
Lady in the Water felt like a new direction, but unfortunately it was a wrong turn. A slow, plodding, uninteresting piece of fantasy that felt bereft of emotion. The Happening was a film so terrible it’s hard to believe it came from the same filmmaker that made The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. The Last Airbender was the kind of terrible big budget film that showed how poorly his skills translated to the Hollywood blockbuster system. Something proven by the anemic After Earth.
In spite of a string of notable, miserable failures, Shyamalan was able to show signs of life. The Visit was an imperfect piece of found footage but was entertaining enough to achieve ‘average’. Given the low bar he had set with the previous four films, ‘average’ felt like an accomplishment.
Now Split has hit theaters, and it feels like Shyamalan hasn’t returned to, but found a new form. Lowered budgets and expectations have served him well. Now, with a little bit of swagger back in his step Shyamalan has announced his intention to get the long gestating Unbreakable sequel in development.
The question is; are we still excited by this prospect?
The old me would have screamed out “Hell Yes!”. The one who believed Shyamalan was on par with the best turn of the century filmmakers. Modern day me is a bit more skeptical. I’ll try to explain why.
I don’t think we need to spend any more time on the inconsistency of Shyamalan’s output lending itself to our collective trepidation. Let’s examine some more non-Shyamalan factors. When we first heard of a potential sequel to Unbreakable, the idea seemed novel. In the early 2000’s comic book movies were a steady drip compared to the deluge we currently find ourselves drowning in. The concept of cinematic superheroes was uniquely tackled with a film like Unbreakable which had no connections to any mainstream comic books. Instead it was an examination of the concept of people with special abilities in a real world setting. An origin story for a superhero in a world where none exist.
The current cinematic landscape is so wildly different. Since the release of Unbreakable, the cinematic landscape has changed so drastically. The concept of superheroes in cinema has been examined, re-examined, then anally probed by a poorly lubricated gloved finger. Between the ascension of Marvel Studios and it’s competitors filling the movie theaters with comic book adaptations, audiences have been beaten over the head with origin stories and heroes who question the point of their existence. The subject has examined more frequently than a Kardashian vagina.
Perhaps there’s an opportunity for Shyamalan to tell a new kind of superhero story set in the Unbreakable universe. One that uses our superhero obsessed society to its advantage. To me, it feels like a recipe for disaster with Shyamalan tapping into this comic book culture and trying to tell a more relevant story. The genius of Unbreakable comes from its simple origins and two extremely well-developed characters. The part of me that always wanted an Unbreakable sequel wants that continued simplicity. What did David Dunn do after he learned of Elijah Price aka Mister Glass’ horrific acts?
I had always hoped the next chapter would chronicle David Dunn’s next steps into the world of heroics. This was an optimistic choice given the somewhat nebulous ending to the film. We see David become the hero, then become the better husband and father. His faith is tested by the discovery of Elijah’s deception. The final shot of David Dunn shows a man in conflict. If he is truly ‘Unbreakable’, he would move past this betrayal and continue to seek out those in need of his special abilities. Given the fact that a significant amount of time has passed since the first Unbreakable, I imagine were going to be well past David’s next steps and into the tail end of his adventures (if he had any). What I would hate is the idea that David has been dormant all these years, recessing back into a place of ambivalence rather than embracing his unbreakable nature.
That’s the Unbreakable 2 part of me still wants to see. In spite of Shyamalan’s inconsistent narratives. In spite of the loss of novelty superhero cinema now provides. In spite of Bruce Willis turning in one decent performance in the last ten years.
Are we still interested in an Unbreakable sequel? I am. Not excited, but interested.