Foreshadowing the summer release of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, the Sci-Fi channel controversially aired the mysterious Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, a 2-hour supposed "documentary" about the man and his movies, focusing on the making of his latest. Perhaps you remember the press surrounding this strange little "nonfiction" film? In the days preceding its broadcast, Shyamalan publicly protested the film, supposedly wanting to prevent you from absorbing its shocking revelations. The truth is that The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan is just a smirky, absurd mockumentary with high production values and a big ego. It reeks of marketing hype. And a lot of people fell for it.
Gosh, a lot of people are gullible.
Early on, we meet the documentary's "director," Nathaniel Kahn, who's simply carrying out a Sci-Fi channel assignment to produce a fluff piece on Shyamalan in anticipation of The Village hitting theaters. The whole conceit of the film is that the documentary crew, faced with the frustration of very limited access to Night, latches onto some intriguing clues suggesting a much deeper, much more interesting story behind the man, myth, and legend that is M. Night Shyamalan. Increasingly against the wishes of the director and his flustered publicist, the crew searches out Night's high-school friends and childhood buddies (all of them actors, almost certainly) in an effort to understand the "auteur." And as they dig, a number of supernatural mysteries crop up, beginning with something as innocuous as a Ouija Board query posed by Kahn and a teenaged Shyamalan fanatic. We get a haunting story about a ghostly picture Night drew as a child, and we tour a seemingly haunted childhood home. The supernatural twists start piling up.
A large chunk of the film is devoted to a supposed childhood incident in which he nearly drowned—a near-death experience in which he "saw dead people." The documentary crew dives more and more deeply into the director's mysterious "past," uncovering some startling secrets and revelations. They also go to great lengths to explore the settings of Night's films, searching for clues. The whole notion of building up a legend around Night, conjuring parallels between his "real life" and his films, is a bit shameless. It makes me wonder how involved Shyamalan was in this production. Did he okay large chunks of this story? Did he write them himself, or did he just give his consent to this outlandish faux biography?
Apparently, a lot of people were involved with this barely-clever bit of manipulation. Johnny Depp, of all people, turns up as himself, and Adrien Brody is very much in on the joke. The comments by the two actors intertwine in what could have been a nice subtle moment, but no, the documentary chooses to pound its message home by repeating their relevant comments over and over until Okay I GET IT! Even guru Deepak Chopra chimes in.
Watch for humorously staged incidents involving crows, which recall Hitchcock's lifelong symbolic fascination. Hammering its point home, the documentary also goes to great lengths at the end to point out all the crows you should've seen if you'd been watching closely. This is not a subtle film. There's even a ghost uncovered herein, extracted impossibly from a segment of panning video, and when it comes, you realize the mockumentary long ago started abusing your willing suspension of disbelief. And when, in an angry phone message, Night taunts the crew with, "No one's going to believe this, they're going to think you made it all up," it's a nice concluding sentiment, and it's fun, but you're left wondering about the point of the whole thing. The only conclusion I've come to is that of manipulation—to further expand a cinematic mystique.
By the time the end comes, and Night is confronted with the "truth" that the documentary crew has discovered—"Your movies aren't fiction, Night, they're autobiography"—you'll be laughing with the fun of it all, but you'll also feel like you're watching a carefully orchestrated marketing piece, the purpose of which is also to stoke the fire of Shyamalan's already-burning-bright ego.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Buena Vista presents The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan in a perfectly serviceable anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's 1.78:1 video presentation. For a shot-on-video production, the image is surprisingly fine. Detail and depth are top-notch, and colors are accurate if a bit washed out, in line with a video release. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track provides a very active mix, engaging in surrounds, with a full deep end. Dialog is clear and accurate. The score is the element that is the most aggressive, feeling spread across the room and resonant in the bass.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
There are absolutely no special features. You might even call this a special feature that could have been included with a nice special edition of The Village.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan feels like a long leg-pulling commercial for The Village and the rest of the director's work. Perhaps in the height of its controversy, it might have warranted a curious peek, but it already feels dated and ridiculous. Give it a pass.