8. Unbreakable (2000)
The Twist: Bruce Willis really is a superhero! Samuel L. Jackson is a supervillain mastermind!
The Gist: Jackson’s Elijah Price is a comic book aficionado who spends most of the movie explaining the rules of superherodom to Bruce Willis’s apparently invulnerable David Dunn. Unbreakable is really a superhero origin story…and the film concludes with the revelation that Price is actually the bad guy to Dunn’s good guy, having caused the train wreck that started the movie.
The Shaking Fist: Audiences were flustered by the final revelation — and the film’s surprisingly stark conclusion. (It’s the exact opposite of The Sixth Sense‘s graceful reveal.) But watching Unbreakable again, you can see how Shyamalan perfectly composed the whole movie around the truth of Jackson’s character: It was quite literally hiding in plain sight the whole time. —Darren Franich
7. The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Twist: Rosebud is a sled! (No, just kidding.)
The Gist: The Sixth Sense is nominally set up as a procedural, with Willis as a child psychologist helping a troubled kid with his I-see-ghosts-problem. In the process, the film teaches us the rules of ghosts — they don’t know they’re dead, they lower the temperature — all leading to the revelation that Willis was a ghost the whole time.
The Shaking Fist: It’s a justifiably famous twist, but it tilts toward absurdity since much of the twist rests on whether or not Olivia Williams makes eye contact with Bruce Willis. Also, the ”they were dead the whole time” aha moment (purportedly inspired by the Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode ”The Tale of the Dream Girl”) ain’t exactly new. —Darren Franich
6. Wide Awake (1998)
The Twist: My best friend has epilepsy! Hey, that kid’s a ghost!
The Gist: Bereft after his grandfather’s death, a young Catholic boy named Joshua (Joseph Cross) looks for signs to renew his faith. After an hour of grandpa flashbacks and Rosie O’Donnell as a nun, Joshua stumbles upon his best friend Dave (Timothy Reifsnyder), bloodied after a violent epileptic seizure. Dave recovers and attributes Joshua’s fortunate timing to God. Voilà! Faith restored. As a reward for his devotion, Joshua gets a message from beyond (in the form of a classmate he claims he’s seen many times before) that gramps is ”happy now.” Apparently Haley Joel Osment wasn’t the first of Shyamalan’s characters to see dead people.
The Shaking Fist: The fauxteur’s pre-Sixth Sense effort is pretty low on the absurdo-meter. The appearance of a ghost-buddy feels like a forced afterthought, and the epilepsy reveal seems pretty unlikely — wouldn’t Dave’s parents want their son’s health issues known at least by his best friend’s parents? Also, don’t they have jewelry for that? —Lanford Beard
5. Devil (2010)
The Twist: That dumpy lady’s the Devil? You killed my family, you bastard!
The Gist: In this Shyamalan-conceived and -produced story, a group of people trapped in an elevator start dropping like flies during a series of mysterious, seconds-long blackouts. It falls to ex-alcoholic Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), who’s plagued by the trauma of his wife and son’s death in a drunk-driving accident, to figure out who’s behind the bloodbath. (Hint: It’s in the title.) Long story short, an older woman (Jenny O’Hara) who appears to have bitten the dust early on reveals herself to be the malevolent force at work. But the ”big” twist is that another elevator occupant (all of whom are guilty of various sins) was responsible for the Bowdens’ deaths.
The Shaking Fist: Should the real twist be significantly lamer than the fakeout twist? If you’re M. Night Shyamalan, that’s a resounding ”Yes!” —Lanford Beard
4. Signs (2002)
The Twist: The aliens’ Kryptonite is water!
The Gist: Shyamalan’s invasion story is a taut, genuinely spine-tingling thriller that ends not with a bang but a ”Whaaa?” After being trapped with one of the creatures, ex-priest Graham (Mel Gibson) and his creepy-cute kids (Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin) eventually discover that the power to defeat it has been inside them all along: The otherworldly species has an adverse reaction to H2O, the substance that makes up 50 to 65 percent of the human body and covers about 70 percent of the earth’s surface. As dei ex machina go, this one is particularly bad — but it pales in comparison to the other contrivances Shyamalan piles on in the film’s third act. A sampler: Graham’s water-phobic daughter has conveniently left half-filled glasses all over the house! His asthmatic son is safe from the aliens’ poison gas! Their sainted mom foresaw the whole thing right before she died!
The Shaking Fist: Wait, did the aliens not recognize all that the blue stuff when they put our planet in their crosshairs? And had they never heard of rain? —Hillary Busis
3. The Village (2004)
The Twist: It’s not the past!
The Gist: Seemingly set in a late 19th-century settlement, Shyamalan’s monster movie (which bore striking similarities to Margaret Peterson Haddix’s novel Running Out of Time) featured no monsters at all — only men in costumes trying to scare their neighbors. If that wasn’t enough of twist, the film’s real gotcha moment comes when heroine Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) emerges from the woods and viewers see (gasp!) a car; turns out the town’s founders had been lying all along, that they’d withdrawn after being unable to cope with the harsh realities of modern society.
The Shaking Fist: Did you really just negate everything that made your story compelling, sir? Why yes, yes you did. —Lanford Beard
2. The Happening (2008)
The Twist: Killer trees!!!
The Gist: A woman on a park bench casually removes her hairpin and stabs herself in the neck with it. Members of a construction crew methodically throw themselves off a roof, one by one. A zookeeper straight-up feeds himself to a bunch of lions. Why? It’s not due to genetic warfare or some sort of supernatural evil force — it’s because the world’s plants have started to notice that we’re not treating them very well, and they. Are. Pissed. That’s right: partway through the film, we learn that humanity is being targeted for extinction by a toxin that’s being released by innocent-looking flora. Better bring that lemon drank inside, Mark Wahlberg.
The Shaking Fist: Ludicrously enough, Shyamalan’s eco-terror idea had sort of been done before (are we noticing a trend?)…but at least Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was supposed to be stupid. —Hillary Busis
1. Lady in the Water (2006)
The Twist: M. Night Shyamalan is a brilliant auteur, and everyone should stop being such jerks to him!
The Gist: Like many great narrative works, Lady in the Water is essentially about storytelling. Unlike those other works, this painfully whimsical film is calibrated to celebrate the profound storytelling abilities of a single person — its own creator. Shyamalan humbly casts himself as a struggling writer whose work will someday inspire a great leader to bring forth a new age of prosperity, according to a prophecy delivered by Bryce Dallas Howard’s magical narf (don’t ask). She has come to Earth specifically to be his muse; his neighbors, too, each play a predestined role in the narf’s tale. Those roles (Healer, Guardian, Narf Shirt Provider) are easily deciphered by the building’s resident boor, an arrogant film critic named Mr. Farber (Bob Balaban) who declares that there’s ”no originality left in the world.” Except, wait! It turns out that Farber’s who’s-who predictions were all wrong, and he’s eventually eaten by something called a scrunt (again, don’t ask).
The Shaking Fist: Did I mention that Howard’s character is named ”Story”? Dude, come on. —Hillary Busis