The Fake Documentary That Backfired On M. Night Shyamalan's The Village

M. Night Shayamalan has had more than a tumultuous career. His breakout hit, "The Sixth Sense," made him one of the few directors that became an instantly recognizable household name. A series of critical flops, however, turned him into an easy target for the butt of many a joke about his need for twist endings. The filmmaker has had a bit of a comeback in recent years, earning respect and profits for the mid-budget work he has done for NBCUniversal such as "The Visit" and "Split." His nadir, however, was a brutal one, even by Hollywood standards. And this low point in his career was only exacerbated by the public's poor perception of him. Case in point: The head-scratching phenomenon of "The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan."

As an elaborate marketing stunt for "The Village," Shyamalan orchestrated a mockumentary about his own life and career complete with ominous music, spooky VHS-like visual footage, and head-scratching bits that depict Shyamalan as an enigmatic, possibly supernatural figure. The audio cuts in and out whenever he speaks, pictures of him tend to look distorted, and people talk about him in a strangely hushed manner. For instance, his publicist tells the documentary crew that, while visiting the set of "The Village," they must avoid making eye contact with Shyamalan. His fan club, on the other hand, lets the crew know that they have certainly met his gaze. This is, of course, before one of them tries to contact Shyamalan-related spirits with a Ouija board in his basement.

An unfortunate twist ending

After closely analyzing footage of Shyamalan's childhood short films and piecing occult clues together, the documentarians discover the "buried secret" that the title alludes to. It turns out that, as a young boy, Shyamalan drowned in a lake and temporarily died. Before paramedics arrived at the scene to revive him, however, the filmmaker had communicated with spirits from beyond the grave, inspiring "The Sixth Sense" and lending him the supernatural qualities that the documentary had previously hinted at. It's at this point where Shyamalan becomes upset and actively tries to stop the documentary's release, creating a story that would play out leading up to the broadcast.

In reality, Shyamalan had worked with the SYFY (then Sci-Fi) Channel to keep the entire project a secret. The problems arrived when network president Bonnie Hammer admitted to the hoax before the documentary even aired, leading to disappointing viewership numbers. "The Village" went on to become Shyamalan's last true hit before the critical and financial bomb that was "Lady in the Water," which most mark as the beginning of the end. Still, "Buried Secret" painted Shyamalan as a larger-than-life myth, an element that would return with Shyamalan's critically-panned portrayal of the god-author Vick Ran in "Lady in the Water." It was also a prime example of Shyamlan's bizarre, perhaps hokier, ideas surfacing with little to no restraint. "Buried Secret" represents the filmmaker's decision to build hype through his own name and image, which made sense back when his name carried box office weight but which could and did easily backfire upon the exposing of his faux exposé.