M. Night Shyamalan’s 5 Most Mind Bending Plot Twists

From villains hiding in plain sight and ghostly mentors, we run through some of the best of the director's best twists and turns.

Michael Carrby Michael Carr

When it comes to twist endings, few contemporary directors can claim the kind of reputation M. Night Shyamalan commands. Shyamalan’s films – such as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs – have captivated audiences around the world with their taut storytelling and masterful use of tension, but what they are truly known for is dramatically upending the expectations of audiences in their final acts with mind-bending twists.

With his most recent offering Split released this month on Blu-Ray, Digital and DVD, we thought, why not go on a spoiler-riffic journey down memory lane to revisit M. Night Shyamalan‘s 5 most mind-bending plot twists.

The Sixth Sense

His most famous film –  and twist – by a long margin, The Sixth Sense is the work that catapulted Shyamalan to international fame and success. Starring Bruce Willis as a sombre child psychologist Malcolm Crowe, the film follows Crowe as he treats a young boy named Cole played by Hayley Joel “I-See-Dead-People” Osment, who claims to be able to – you guessed it – see dead people. The thing is though, they don’t know their dead. Crowe at first refuses to believe, then helps Cole come to terms with his ability, suggesting he help the ghosts with their unfinished business which then leads to…

The Twist: That Crowe himself has been dead all along!!! That’s right the whole time he was helping Cole speak to dead people Cole was speaking to one, the story coming full circle in that by teaching Cole to help others he, in turn, can help himself and come to terms with the fact that he was killed by a former patient whom he feels he failed. Mind bent.

The Visit

From his defining work to his return to form, The Visit proved that despite his less than successful forays into blockbusters with Avatar: The Last Airbender and the Will and Jaden Smith vehicle After Earth, Shyamalan can still direct the hell out of a creep-tastic indie horror thriller. Not only that but it also showed for the first time a degree of self-reflexive humour on his own storytelling conventions, with the resultant mixture of laughs and screams proving very effective.

The film rest on an elegantly simple premise of two teenagers going to visit their grandparents who – thanks to an ongoing feud with their mother –  they have never met. Arriving only to discover grandma and grandpa are more than a little weird, behaving erratically and insisting the teens stick to a strict 9:30pm bedtime. What follows is a tense yet at time tongue in cheek look at the horror of family visits that leads to…

The Twist: That these people aren’t their grandparents at all and are in fact escaped lunatics from the mental asylum where their real grandparents worked. The two escaped and killed the teens’ real grandparents so that the crazy Nanna, who drowned her own children, would get the chance to be a grandmother. Truly terrifying, the best thing about this twist, however, is the simplicity of its message. Don’t hold a grudge against your parents.

Unbreakable

For many fans of Shyamalan, 2000’s Unbreakable is his lesser known masterpiece. Suffering slightly from comparison to The Sixth Sense that had only been released the previous year, the film was nevertheless praised for its grounded re-imagining of a super hero origin story. Once again starring Bruce Willis, this time as David Dunn a security guard who after surviving a catastrophic train crash discovers he has a special ability. He can never get hurt. Not only that but just by touching people he can see if they are going to commit a crime (no he can’t smell it, that’s a different movie). The film follows Willis’ character as he slowly comes to grips with his new abilities aided and encouraged by the physically frail and comic book obsessed side kick Elijah Price, played by Sam Jackson, who believes him to be a superhero. Things progress along the standard origin story narrative line, albeit with a more Shyamalan-style tense and introspective atmosphere until…

The Twist: It’s revealed that Price is a “super-villain”. Well kinda. His powers are extremely fragile breakable bird bones so the word “super” might be a bit of a misnomer. Revealing himself as ‘Mr Glass’, it turns out he is the man responsible for the train crash that led to the Dunn discovering his powers. Not only that but he has been responsible for numerous such incidences in the search for someone like David. Price argues that the countless deaths he has caused are justified by his discovery and that his sole purpose in life was to be the villain to Dunn’s hero. The film ends with titles informing us Dunn had Price arrested, the villain then being committed to an institute for the criminally insane. Oh and Dunn’s only weakness is water, a theme we would see return, to not so much applause, in his next film Signs.

The Happening

Now this one is more a mind-bending twist than a good one, but it has to go on this list for its sheer crazy ambition. After a series of mass suicides start spreading across North America from New York, science teacher Elliot Moore, played by Mark Wahlberg, decides to go to Harrisburg Pennsylvania with his wife Alma, played by Zooey Deschanel. I can’t remember why exactly, but it’s not really important, as what follows is one of the most amazingly bewildering horror films ever released. People continue to commit mass suicide in various different situations as Marky Mark does his best to run from one spot to the next to escape the epidemic, at one point even attempting to outrun the wind.

The Twist: While at first believed to be a bio-terrorist attack, the twist this time is that no, it was actually plants who, threatened by humanity polluting the earth, released a toxin that forces people to commit suicide. I am not kidding, that is the twist to this film. Now you might be rolling your eyes at me for this one, but let me tell you, watching Mark Wahlberg begging a tree to spare his life might be one of the most bizarrely enjoyable moments in all of film history. It is certainly one of the most mind-bending to understand, not so much for complexity, but rather because I have no idea how it was ever allowed to go ahead. I am just thankful it did.

Split

The director’s latest film Split follows Kevin, a man with dissociative personality disorder struggling to keep control of his 23 personalities as his is taken over by three of his more dangerous alters; Patricia, a pious and strict Englishwoman, Dennis, a pervert with OCD and Hedwig, a energetic 9 year old boy. Kidnapping three girls to serve as ‘sacred food’ for Kevin’s yet to emerge final personality, The Beast, the film slowly ratchets up the tension as we get to know Kevin’s personalities better. Going on to explore themes of surviving abuse and the mental scars such experiences can leave, we eventually learn a lot more about Kevin.

The Twist: Find out for yourself! Split is out now on Blu-Ray, Digital and DVD.