It's become fashionable to say that Manoj Night Shyamalan is over now. After the big success of his first film, the twisty-ended The Sixth Sense and the warm reception to the ones that followed (Unbreakable, Signs), he faced an icy wall of critical displeasure. Let's just say that films like Lady In The Water and The Happening were not, well, happening.
But I have news for you. I recently finished seeing Wayward Pines, the 10-episode TV series he produced (he also directed the pilot), and I was hooked. I finished the show in two days flat and would have polished it off in one if (a) I had that much time (b) my eyes didn't feel like they were going to fall out of my sockets (as much from exhaustion as the goings-on on screen).
Wayward Pines is what is called a sleeper hit - nobody expected it to do well (given the jaundiced eye with which Shyamalan is viewed these days, that's hardly surprising).
Some critics did diss the show but the ratings were excellent. There is even some talk of a season 2.
Wayward Pines is an eerie blend of horror and science fiction. Both are genres I like, particularly the latter. So if your thing is sitcoms or romance, read no more.
The show opens with a US Secret Service agent, Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), waking up in a strange hospital in a small Idaho town called Wayward Pines. The last thing he remembers is that he was in a car accident with a colleague, while they were both on a mission to locate two missing agents, Kate and Bill.
There is a smiling, cloyingly attentive nurse hovering around him in the hospital, who is so creepy she makes your hair not just stand on end but twirl about corkscrew-style. She's called Nurse Pamela Pilcher and played to perfection by Melissa Leo. I kept remembering the nurse in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.
But Ethan's mind-bending nightmare has just begun. Sample this:
The hospital is weirdly empty and deserted.
He doesn't have his wallet or his phone with him. They're apparently with the town sheriff who turns out to be an ice cream-licking weirdo. He can't call his wife and son. He can't call his office. Nurse Pam beams at him brightly but is of no help at all (or does she not *want* to help?).
He lurches out of the hospital and goes into a bar where he meets a bartender, Beverly, who seems reassuringly normal and gets him a burger. Then she scribbles her address on a piece of paper. But when Ethan looks at the paper there is also a message: 'There are no crickets in Wayward Pines.' And when he steps outside and hears the sounds of crickets from a nearby bush, he peers inside and discovers a recorder emitting cricket sounds. Yes, I know, creepy.
He goes to the address and discovers it's a rundown, decrepit house. And in one of the rooms is the bloated corpse of one of the missing agents, Bill.
The second missing agent, Kate, suddenly turns up a little later in the episode, all smiley-smiley at an open-air picnic. Ethan follows her to her home and discovers she has a husband. When he gets her alone for a few moments, she tells him "They're watching everything." She also tells him she's been living in Wayward Pines for 12 years which is a little disconcerting for Ethan since he just met her five weeks ago.
More inexplicable things happen. Nothing makes any sense.
Ethan grabs a car and decides to get the hell out of Wayward Pines. He drives out only to find that the road leads him right back to Wayward Pines.
Now if *that* isn't a show to grab you by the collar and keep you chained to your TV set, I don't know what is. God of horror Stephen King called the premiere episode "outrageously entertaining." The show is also superbly atmospheric and creates an ominous, sinister mood in what looks like a very pretty suburban small town in America.
I'm not giving away any spoilers but the show also takes a brave decision to go for a big reveal mid-way through the series (episode 5 to be precise).
The end, in typical Shyamalan manner, has a sharp sting.
Yes, there are a few things to quibble and grumble about, but on the whole, I found it the equivalent of an unputdownable thriller. It's based on the books called Wayward Pines by American writer Blake Crouch but I was thankful I hadn't read them, otherwise all the suspense would have gone.
I believe Star telecast the show in India but you can watch the entire series online.
Now I'm looking forward to watching Shyamalan's new film, The Visit, out in September. By all accounts, he's got his mojo back.