The big surprise of course is and do not read this if you dont want to have it spoilt for you is that Unbreakable is a film about comic-book superheroes. When one first read this, the response was Huh! When I read this in an opening-day review before seeing the film, the notion seemed bizarrely laughable. And once at the realization that it is a superhero film, the only real surprise about Unbreakable is that this is what it is about. Certainly, in video/dvd and cable release and with the details of its plot is known, the film holds no surprises. There is an interesting final twist but no grand climactic overthrowing of audience expectations as in The Sixth Sense the story is only a linear progression toward the heros coming to understand his destiny.
M. Night Shyamalans films are extraordinarily quiet films. Dialogue is hushed and even the silences hold one enrapt. In these silences, Shyamalan is capable of evincing a superb intimacy to his characters. However, this is an approach that is almost entirely opposed to the comic-book and the superhero, which are usually told in larger than life terms and moral absolutes. Unbreakable is more of a soul of the superhero film. The superhero with brooding inner psychosis became fairly much de rigeur after Batman (1989) but instead Shyamalan renders his superheros inner life in kitchen sink terms Bruce Williss superhero is an ordinary man whose weight in saving the world is contrasted with his trying to piece his failing marriage back together and find a better job. Unbreakable comes entirely free of any classic superhero elements. The most superheroic Bruce Williss stunts ever become are ripping the door off a car and lifting a set of barbell weights (that are in fact much less than the amount lifted by most professional bodybuilders). The closest we come to a superhero costume is seeing Bruce Willis in a hooded plastic raincoat with the word Security on it, which Shyamalan consciously crafts into something like a Batman-esque shadowy avenger in a couple of shots.
Unbreakable is similar to The Sixth Sense in many ways M. Night Shyamalan again shoots it in Philadelphia, he again features Bruce Willis and a crucial element of the story is the well-etched relationship between Bruce and a young boy. Unbreakable is certainly well written and directed. The trouble with it though is M. Night Shyamalans kitchen sink approach the very ordinariness and determined lack of larger-than-life affect results in a film that promises to build to something epical and grandiose in concept but leaves one unsatisfied and waiting at the end. One keeps wondering if the classical comic-book approach might not have suited the film better. The scenes with Samuel L. Jackson explaining his theories to Bruce Willis about his being a superhero and comic-books being a mythic form that relays universal truths seem quite ridiculous when you think about them. However, the very drabness of the M. Night Shyamalans kitchen sink approach is one that almost defies you to laugh at it but the more you think about the film afterwards, the less you can help doing so.
M. Night Shyamalan next went onto make the equally downbeat, minimalised and disappointing alien invasion film Signs (2002) and then the likes of The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2005), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), After Earth (2013), The Visit (2015) and Split (2017). Shyamalan also produced and conceived the story for The Night Chronicles 1: Devil (2010). Through most of these run M. Night Shyamalans familiar themes of predestination, a greater truth that exists between works of fiction and of characters coming to understand the true purpose of their lives.