Celebrating M.Night Shyamalan’s new film ‘Old’ with a look at his 5 best

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DAN BUFFA, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Every director carries a trademark to the screen. Martin Scorsese’s love for the Rolling Stones music and a long tracking shot. John Woo loves doves flying over our heroes. There will be a guitar in Robert Rodriguez’s movies. Quentin Tarantino’s extended dialogue conversations are still being copied and tried today. For M. Night Shyamalan, whose new film “Old” comes out Friday in theaters only, the twist ending is his calling card.

For the most part, it’s worked. Like 95% of living and dead filmmakers, he has a few misfires. “Lady in the Water” took the weird factor to a 12 and never looked back. Nothing really happened in “The Happening” except for Mark Wahlberg looking like a baby staring at a Rubik’s cube. But Shyamalan is undeterred in his strategy and built a career next to it. He’s had some big bumps (“The Last Airbender”), but there have been quite a few solid flicks (“The Visit” isn’t underrated, more like under watched).

Let’s talk about his five best films. He’s directed 14 films, counting the new one, and that does include the very disappointing “Glass,” the only sequel that the Indian-born American has ever made. Yes, the order of the films here does mean something.

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5) “The Visit” 

Out of all his films, people slip past this one too often.

No movie stars (pre-“WandaVision” Kathryn Hahn) and one setting didn’t deter this slow-burning scarefest that Shyamalan takes to another level with his inherent skill for camera placement and character point of views. Every kid hates going to stay with the grandparents, but even more so if they’re disturbing killers instead of doting older souls. Dropped off by their mom for a vacation stay with “nana and pop,” chaos quickly descends on the remote house in the woods, with freakish reveals coming every few minutes. This is a “tense for all the right reasons” horror-thriller.

4) “Split”

Call this the James McAvoy showcase. He shows off a versatile array of moods and voices as a mad man suffering from multiple personality disorder… among other things. He kidnaps three young girls (hello, Anya Taylor-Joy intro) and finds that one of his personalities is the true antagonist and dominating the other friendlier ones.

If it sounds mad as McAvoy’s Kevin does, you’re on the right level. He should have been nominated for an Academy Award. It reminded me of Heath Ledger’s Joker, deconstructed for two hours.

3) “The Sixth Sense”

Yes, Shyamalan’s big introduction and his most popular film (still) can still wow a viewer. Bruce Willis has never been more perfectly understated while still radiating star power in one of his finest roles. A shrink who can’t get over the trauma of an old patient and finds himself connected with a special young man (Haley Joel Osment).

The red herrings can be seen more clearly these days, but the final 10 minutes of this film still pack a poetic punch. At the heart of his best films lies a love story.

2) “Signs”

Fresh off a viewing a couple of weeks ago, this Mel Gibson-led film is one of his most emotionally driven movies. The alien invasion can still rattle the cages (especially the hand under the door!), but the idea of family and perseverance in the wake of tragedy is what made this one tick. Joaquin Phoenix is great, but it’s Cherry Jones who really makes an impact in her small number of scenes. Try not to cheer on during the climactic battle.

1) “Unbreakable”

One of Shyamalan’s greatest tools is deftly introducing modern-day super heroism into his stories. Here, a security guard named David (a soulful Bruce Willis) in Philadelphia — a common M. Night location,  also where he grew up –suddenly finds himself with incredible strength after being the lone survivor of a train accident.

The slowly yet deliberate way the filmmaker reveals David’s abilities, especially a tearful connection at breakfast with his son over a newspaper, are beautiful. Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah flips the table on its head midway, setting us up for a grand finale. Heroes. Villains. Humans with supernatural ability.

This was Shyamalan at his best and boldest. He taught Hollywood how to reintroduce superheroes living among us — giving them a personality and family with some unexpected reluctance to his new role.

Bravo and thanks for reading.