Dir: M Night Shyamalan. US. 2000. 107 mins.
Prod co: Blinding Edge Pictures, Touchstone Pictures. US dist: Buena Vista. Int'l dist: BVI. Exec prods: Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum. Prods: M Night Shyamalan, Barry Mendel, Sam Mercer. Scr: Shyamalan. DoP: Eduardo Serra. Prod des: Larry Fulton. Ed: Dylan Tichenor. Mus: James Newton Howard. Main cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, Robin Wright Penn, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard.
A reteaming of writer-director M Night Shyamalan and star Bruce Willis, Unbreakable may not achieve the level of success of their previous blockbuster The Sixth Sense, which is the tenth biggest grossing film of all time, but it is certainly as intriguing and confirms the director as a powerful manipulator of his audiences' fears and fantasies.
A five-day $47.2m opening domestically proves the enthusiasm audiences have for Shyamalan's low-key supernatural tales, although if you thought The Sixth Sense was a shaggy dog story, Unbreakable will provoke more than a little dissent with its out-of-nowhere surprise ending. Buena Vista has cleverly adopted a less-is-more approach in its domestic marketing campaign, explaining little in its mysterious trailers (unusual at a time when trailers are spilling all the plot beans) and building a sense of anticipation and want-to-see that has already paid off.
Internationally, this same approach should be equally successful, especially with the presence of Willis in a similarly tortured role as in its predecessor. Bruce is compelling as a security guard returning to Philadelphia from a job interview in New York City who miraculously survives a devastating train crash without a scratch on him. He is the sole survivor much to the relief of his son (Clark) and estranged wife (Wright Penn). Soon afterwards he is approached by a comic book collector (Jackson) with a chronic brittle bone disease who suggests to him that he may possess super-human powers.
The same ponderous, downbeat tone as in The Sixth Sense is pursued here, and again it has a hypnotic effect, lulling the viewer into a trancelike state of confusion until all is revealed in the finale. Unlike The Sixth Sense, however, there is little to engage with emotionally. Shyamalan has almost gone too far to appear distant and cold, forgetting that the human qualities of Haley Joel Osment and his mother Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense were what captured the hearts as well as the imaginations of cinemagoers the world over.