Unbreakable (2000) – “Real life doesn’t fit into little boxes that were drawn for it”
Retrospectively becoming the hipster’s choice for “my favourite superhero origin story“, Unbreakable‘s slow-burn brilliance is punctuated by some indelible craftsmanship, directing and acting alike.
There’s that 360° camera rotation on the Active Comics cover during the Elijah Price flashback, the “I’m just an ordinary man” scene, where David Dunn (Bruce Willis) pours scorn on his son’s adoration of his abilities, which provides a powerful through line for their fractured family, one that’ll continue into Glass, or the “They called me Mr.Glass” ending. It’s a comicbook movie built on a foundation of small moments that carry a lot of weight.
However, the chosen highlight is the closest thing Unbreakable has to a set-piece, and it’s also a narrative motif that occurs in almost every single one of the director’s films; the moment of awakening.
Having been prompted by Elijah to “go to where people are” in order to utilise his power, Dunn descends upon a house in which a family are being held hostage by a stripped back villain named Mr. Orange. With James Newton Howard’s music swelling, and our reluctant hero wearing his ‘costume’ of choice, a superhero is born as Dunn falls into the swimming pool, and after a brief struggle in which he faces his demons, emerges from the water, rising above the children he’s saved as the hero Elijah wanted him to be. It’s interesting that for the rest of the low-key struggle with the bad-guy, Shyamalan never shows Willis’ face, depicting the fact that he has now accepted and transformed into his superhero alter-ego. It’s a sequence of subtle brilliance, one that’s indicative of the way in which the entire film is executed. It’s my favourite superhero origin story.
Signs (2002) – “There’s a monster outside my room, can I have a glass of water?”
Forget the fact the alien’s plan is undermined by landing on a planet that’s comprised of 71% water, because if the movies have taught us anything, it’s that the little green men aren’t as smart as their flashy U.F.O. would have us believe. The Independence Day invaders had their expired anti-virus software, while Mac & Me posited that the visitors from another world needed McDonalds soft drinks to survive. So let’s cut the logic of Signs some slack, and instead focus on some chilling close-encounters.
A director indebted to Spielberg, with whom he drew comparisons in a Newsweek cover to coincide with the release of Signs, homage is writ-large over one of the first sightings. A garbage can is knocked over by a fleeing alien, and a swing frantically rocks, in shots lifted straight from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, as Mel Gibson’s widowed family man runs around the house, having spotted a silhouette on the rooftop in one of the films many heart-skips-a-beat sequences.
One of which is the final selection on our Shyamalan Movie Moments list. A set-piece to which John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place owes a huge debt. Take one cornfield locale, add one of those pesky cinematic trope torches that short out the minute something goes bump in the night, and like Spielberg again, offer up the briefest glimpse of threat. In this instance an extra-terrestrial achilles. The rest can be left to that place in which Shyamalan thrives; the imagination.
Following the conclusion of Split, Glass finds Dunn pursuing Crumb’s superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men. This riveting culmination of his worldwide blockbusters will be produced by Shyamalan and Jason Blum.
Glass will see the return of Bruce Willis (David Dunn), Samuel L. Jackson (Elijah Price), Spencer Treat Clark (Joseph Dunn) and Charlayne Woodard (Mrs. Price) from Unbreakable and James McAvoy (Kevin Wendell Crumb) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey Cooke) from Split, while Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story) also stars. The film is slated to hit cinemas on January 19th 2019.
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt