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Every time a new M. Night Shyamalan movie is announced, movie fans scramble to guess what the filmmaker's latest twist ending will (or won't) be. That's definitley the case now with today's announcement of Knock at the Cabin, the upcoming sure-to-be-creepy film from the writer-director of Old and The Sixth Sense.
Beyond the title and the February 3, 2023 release date, however, nothing is known about the plot, though one could speculate that the titular cabin will be one of the "scary woods" variety. "Cabin" also implies that the filmmaker may also venture for the first time into slasher film territory, and add a potentially very bloody twist to his collection.
While Shyamalan's penchant for twists would become arguably his signature move as a filmmaker, it would also at times serve as a crutch. Thanks to the blockbuster success of Sixth Sense, audiences were “programmed” to not only expect a twist from subsequent Shyamalan efforts but to also do so with the impossibly high expectations of that effort to match (if not surpass) the standard set by Sixth Sense’s instantly-iconic finale. But that hasn’t stopped Shyamalan from churning out two decades' worth of twists to varying degrees of success. In honor of the Knock at the Cabin announcement, we’ve ranked every twist in every Shyamalan movie that has them.
**Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen these films, turn back now.**
10. The Happening (2010)
We’ll believe plants will become sentient and retake the earth before we’ll believe Mark Wahlberg as a science teacher, but that’s the plot of Shyamalan’s notorious misfire. It’s also the engine that fuels the film’s make-or-break twist: A sudden spike in suicides is revealed to have been caused by Earth’s plant life. Why? Because nature is trying to annihilate humanity before humanity can wipe out the world in an ecological disaster.
The Happening struggles from the jump to sell this premise and the uninteresting characters charged with executing it, which makes all the reasons why the ending fails to land all the more apparent.
09. Glass (2019)
Fans wanted to love this highly anticipated Unbreakable sequel, but huge chunks of it didn’t want to help audiences out — especially its climactic twists.
With Glass, Shyamalan creates a shared universe between Unbreakable and Split as he brings Mr. Glass, David, and Split’s The Beast together for an “epic” confrontation on a Blumhouse budget. Shyamalan’s latest twist centers on Sarah Paulson's Dr. Staple, who has the very specific psychiatric practice of treating people who believe they're characters in comic books. She has brought the three main characters together to a Philadelphia-based asylum to spark a good vs. evil brawl to satisfy her hidden agenda. It is then later revealed that Staple is a member of a Hellfire Club-style organization that suppresses and sometimes outright kills people with these abilities. An organization that holds meetings not in secret, but in crowded coffee shops during the middle of the day, with a never-ending roster of seemingly normal people working for them.
The twist here ultimately falters because it requires too much buy-in from the audience that the film doesn’t set up to earn the intended payoff. Too many logic-breaking questions are raised by this out-of-left-field twist. For example: Why would a group this secret risk their plans being caught out in the open when a non-member happens to walk into their coffee shop meeting? Less a satisfying ending and more a tangential “Wouldn’t it be cool if...?” end tag, Glass is a movie nearly 20 years in the making that feels lost in its own narrative, which is all the more surprising and frustrating considering how well-structured and character-driven Unbreakable was.
08. Lady in the Water (2006)
Lady in the Water cemented the filmmaker’s downturn from The Sixth Sense glory days. This one isn't even really a twist so much as it is an excuse for Shyamalan to cram in the most self-indulgent director cameo in movie history.
The protagonists in this fantasy film discover that Bryce Dallas Howard's enigmatic waif has left a world of fables and entered ours by way of the pool in a crappy apartment complex. She seeks a genius writer whose work will inspire a future president and lead to humanity changing for the better. Naturally, that genius author is played by Shyamalan himself. *forehead desk*
07. The Village (2004)
The Village is a largely uneven film whose narrative is entirely designed in the service of a big twist that most of the film’s running time never fully earns. The final 15 minutes undo all of the creepy, slow-burn thriller’s goodwill when it is revealed that the mysterious “creatures” terrorizing a remote community of people clad in 19th-century attire are actually humans in disguise. They act as an invisible fence of sorts to keep the settlement’s 19th-century occupants from venturing past their village’s borders and discovering that they are not in the 19th century — they are actually living in the 21st century.
The community, founded in the 1970s by college professors and medical professionals as some kind of social experiment, only exists as a period piece to “sell” the big modern-day swerve at the end. The Elders could create any narrative they want for those born into the community after their experiment started; they can play God and say the 19th century is really right now. They can wear modern clothes and have modern medicine so their residents don’t have to venture out when they need anything. By not doing that, they invite the very curiosity to step outside the community’s walls that they are trying to derail by using “monsters” wearing weird shroud-like blankets covered in pointy sticks. The period clothing and language are all a ruse destined to backfire, much like The Village’s ending.
06. Devil (2010)
Directing (and derailing) Paramount’s The Last Airbender prevented Shyamalan from helming this overlooked and underrated horror film from Universal, but his signature narrative style is all over it.
Devil, written by Brian Nelson and based on a story by Shyamalan, centers on five strangers trapped in an elevator. Here, they slowly come to the terrifying realization that one of them is the Devil. This Agatha Christie-esque setup, complete with characters linked together by the sins of their past, boils over into a chilling climax. The twist here is that the Devil is revealed to be one of the passengers who died earlier in the film. Using a jump scare to deliver a plot twist is a somewhat inspired choice, and Devil keeps twisting the figurative knife with this moment by revealing why these passengers and their tragic connections were fated to meet in this particular elevator. The Devil’s reckoning leads to another stunning reveal: The elevator’s lone survivor (Logan Marshall-Green) is responsible for a hit-and-run that killed the family of the detective (Chris Messina) investigating that which put the life of his family’s killer in danger.
05. Unbreakable (2000)
Shyamalan’s follow-up to The Sixth Sense was shrouded in mystery, thanks to a very effective marketing campaign — one that also hyped up the film’s “twist” to attract ticket-buyers who spent millions on Sixth Sense the summer before. That build-up ultimately did more harm than good for the film and its audience, as the final moments of this slow-burn superhero action drama all but fizzle as Jackson’s obviously nefarious character is revealed to be a murderous villain cutting a swath of tragedy across the world to find his purpose by way of finding his nemesis.
Jackson’s Glass started out as an almost mentor figure to Bruce Willis’ superhero-in-training, and the reveal that “the good guy is actually the bad guy” lacks the dramatic punch the movie seems to be reaching for. Unbreakable culminates in the less-than-satisfying choice of using on-screen text as a coda to wrap up a story that deserved more. Or, at least, better.
04. Signs (2002)
Assorted glasses filled with water. A baseball bat. “Swing away.” All of these elements serve as indicators of a greater destiny at play within Signs' alien invasion plot set on and around a remote Pennsylvania farmhouse. At the center of it all is a preacher (Mel Gibson) who has lost his faith after losing his wife to a tragic accident, and who risks losing his two small children and his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) to a mysterious alien threat slowly pushing its way through the farm’s cornfield and into our heroes’ living room.
The preacher rediscovers his faith, though, thanks to the divine revelation that every moment surrounding his wife’s death and its aftermath has been setting the stage for a fateful showdown with... alien invaders. “There are no coincidences,” Gibson’s character tells himself. So that’s why his son has asthma — it prevents the boy’s airways from taking in a dangerous aerosol released by an alien. His daughter’s water glasses scattered throughout the house? They are filled with the one thing that can hurt the aliens, and soon become weaponized with the help of a few swings from Phoenix’s baseball bat. (Why extraterrestrials would target a world covered in that which is their Kryptonite, however, is one question Shyamalan’s tense script doesn’t make time to answer.)
03. The Visit (2015)
After nearly a decade of box office disappointments, M. Night Shyamalan rebounded with The Visit, a modest Blumhouse horror hit that proved surprisingly entertaining. Here, the writer-director doubles down on quality scares and creepy atmosphere instead of convoluted plot mechanics. All of this is in service of one hell of a gut punch: The Visit’s young children protagonists have increasingly disturbing experiences with their grandparents, only to discover that their elderly guardians are actually escaped mental patients and murderers.
02. Split (2017)
No one saw this coming.
For most of its runtime, Split seems like Shyamalan is subverting expectations by writing and directing a movie free of a twist ending (your mileage may vary on whether or not the reveal that protagonist Casey Cooke was also abused counts as a twist). Instead, he used an end-credits sting to drop one of his most unexpected, in a good way, swerves.
Split’s big shocker reveals that the horrifying split personality thriller is set in the Unbreakable universe. After The Beast (James McAvoy) becomes a wanted man, we find a man in a local diner ready to join the hunt for him: Bruce Willis’ near-invulnerable security guard, David Dunn. This jaw-dropping moment fueled Film Twitter for days, with Shyamalan doing his version of a Marvel-esque cinematic universe that did the unprecedented: Taking characters from one studio, Disney, Marvel’s parent company, and lending them to Universal and Blumhouse.
This revelation is all the more stunning when taking into consideration Disney let another studio help resurrect an almost 20-year-old movie — one that fell short of domestic box office expectations when it was released — and turn it into a potential franchise. Sadly, Glass’ negative critical reaction (and Shyamalan’s problematic script) made that shared universe short-lived.
01. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Shyamalan will likely never be able to top his work in The Sixth Sense.
One of the '90s’ biggest hits, this gripping, character-driven supernatural drama is the stuff of legend: A young boy who can see ghosts falls under the care of one of those spirits — a psychologist torn between letting go of his mortal existence and accepting his afterlife. It's not just the sheer novelty of this twist that makes it stand out, but the fact that Shyamalan spent the whole movie dropping clues and teasing the big moment without tipping his hat. Moreover, the ending satisfies the emotional themes Shyamalan’s landmark script meticulously set up. It invests us in the lives of Cole and his mother, two people haunted by ghosts both literal and figurative. They are able to achieve a level of catharsis at the hands of another ghost who is haunted by the wife he lost and the life he wishes he could have with her.
The Sixth Sense’s biggest achievement here is tying up all these loose threads without dropping any of them, and infusing them with the exact amount of “right-in-the-feels” energy they need. That, and not the actual twist, is why this movie is a classic.