Two times in the past week, I’ve gone to the movie theater and seen the preview for Devil. Both times, I thought the trailer was well-cut, moody, and effective. And both times, the audience started giggling as soon as they saw M. Night Shyamalan’s name on the screen. By no means am I a fan of the man’s recent output – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that the films he’s made since Signs have all been somewhat embarrassing travesties – but I don’t root for anyone’s failure. I think Shyamalan is clearly a talented individual who has made at least one excellent film (Unbreakable) and one very good one (The Sixth Sense), but I don’t think anything has really changed in him. I don’t think he’s a different kind of storyteller now, I just think he hasn’t evolved as a filmmaker. Some chalk it up to an out-sized ego – and certainly there’s proof of that – but I’m not going to play amateur psychologist and assume that’s the case. I think he is very comfortable making films the way he makes them and doesn’t see that much of a need to listen to outside opinions.
Having said all that, Universal should be more aware of what has happened to the M. Night Shyamalan over the last few years. I don’t think it’s right that people are laughing at Shyamalan’s producer credit on Devil, but I also don’t think it’s smart for the marketing folks to prominently display the name of a man who has tarnished his brand in the eyes of most moviegoers. One could point to the $130 million that The Last Airbender grossed, but that film had a built-in audience and still couldn’t make its budget back.
Devil is a smaller film that needs word of mouth and positive buzz. It seems to be set almost entirely in an elevator with an outlandish premise, but the trailer is cut so well that it intrigued me and I don’t know why the studio would risk putting Shyamalan’s name in lights. Let’s all hope the film is good and that it is step one in Shyamalan getting back into our good graces. Step two is letting someone else write his scripts.