Nobody’s Sure if M. Night Shyamalan Is Making Comedies or Not
M. Night Shyamalan has a new movie hitting theaters this weekend — Knock at the Cabin, all about a cottage vacation that goes horribly wrong when Dave Bautista shows up and demands a blood sacrifice in order to prevent the apocalypse. While we haven’t seen it yet, we’re going to go ahead and guess that it’s all an allegory for… recycling? And also that the twist is that the cabin was inside Bob Newhart’s snowglobe the whole time.
There was a time not so long ago when Shyamalan was universally considered to be a master of horror, but in recent years, a not insignificant number of people seem to think that his movies may, in fact, be stealth comedies.
The debate over the intentionality of the laughs in Shyamalan’s work seemingly began with 2008’s The Happening. At the time, the film was widely hyped for being the director’s very first R-Rated movie, with its MPAA classification (and therefore its implied edginess) appearing in “large, bright-red type on virtually every piece of marketing material.”
What depths of depravity did Shyamalan sink to? What madness-inducing horrors did he have in store for audiences brave enough to weather this cinematic assault on the senses? Well, in the end, we got a movie featuring evil wind and scenes of Mark Wahlberg conversing with a houseplant.
While a lot of people hated The Happening, others read it as purposefully funny, a campy throwback to cheesy B-movies of the 1950s and 1960s. Shyamalan later claimed this to be his intention, stating that The Happening had the same type of "farce humor" as old movies like The Blob, but cited his own directorial inconsistency as a reason why the joke may have been lost on some audiences.
The Happening and its marketing campaign seemingly broke all of our brains because now no one seems to know if Shyamalan is purposefully making comedies or not. Several of his recent projects have inspired at least one “Is this really a comedy?” article — from 2015's The Visit, which was undeniably overtly humorous…
…to Servant, the AppleTV+ series he executive produces and frequently directs. Despite its horrifying premise, Servant often works as a cringe comedy by way of a door-slamming French farce.
And his last movie/meme-generator Old provoked a number of different responses; some thought it was supposed to be “satirical,” while others saw it as “unintentionally funny.” One writer claimed that it was “one of the funniest films of the year” and “the closest thing we’ll have to a Shyamalan comedy.”
Of course, Shyamalan already made a comedy, or more accurately, a family dramedy — his second film Wide Awake, starring Rosie O’Donnell, came out just a year before The Sixth Sense.
And there are lots of other examples of Shyamalan injecting offbeat comedy into his work. He released an entire mockumentary about how he has legit psychic powers, which was clearly meant to be creepy but was ultimately still a big goof. And The Lady in the Water conspicuously included a cocky film critic character who gets brutally killed off at the end, presumably as karmic retribution for the critical reception of The Village.
So it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone at this point that some of his spooky movies can have a comedic agenda, too. It’s like we all forgot about that great Judy Greer scene from The Village.
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