Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 6, 2005)
Since I’d never heard of The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan before the DVD ended up on my door, I took its packaging at face value. The set promises to “uncover the director’s most intimate secrets and learn how they’ve been woven into the stories of his intensely powerful movies! And in addition to talks with cast and crew members, you’ll witness insightful discussions with celebrities.”
However, don’t expect any insight into Shyamalan’s work from this program. Instead, Secret is nothing more than an insipid and pointless mockumentary.
Originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel to promote The Village, Secret focuses on the exploits of documentary director Nathaniel Kahn. It starts with an episode in which he finds he’s been mysteriously booted from his hotel room, and then the show jumps back four months to depict the creation of his documentary about Shyamalan. He receives promises of “unprecedented access” to the tight-lipped director but things don’t work out that way.
Instead, Kahn gets limited contact with the cast and crew of The Village as he instead seems to stumble onto intriguing elements of Shyamalan’s past. When he scouts the director’s Philadelphia-area home, he finds teenage fans camped out in front. Kahn chats with them and uncovers eerie allegations. The rest of the film follows Kahn’s pursuit of the truth and the reality behind Shyamalan’s alleged fiction.
When I finished watching Secret, I checked out other opinions out of curiosity. I was shocked to see that some people bought it as a real documentary and didn’t figure out the gag. Secret makes it abundantly clear from quite early that it’s not to be taken seriously. There are many hints due to the behavior of the participants and the various scenarios.
One of the big clues comes from the treatment of Shyamalan himself as such a revered figure. I mean c’mon - do we really think 14-year-olds hang out at his gate like cult members? We’ve seen Shyamalan built up as the next Hitchcock for a while, so sometimes it’s tough to know how seriously he takes himself. Secret establishes the answer as “not very” since it toys with the notion of the director as a mysterious and important figure. In an odd way, the flick does a lot to deflate Shyamalan’s ego.
On paper, this probably sounds good, but in reality, it’s tiresome and tedious. A lot of the problem stems from the film’s length. Something like this might have worked fine as a 25-minute TV special, but Secret runs past two hours. The thin concept wears out quickly, and the pacing seems atrocious. Secret toddles and meanders its way as it explores… well, not much of anything. We get the occasional “revelation” but mostly it’s heavy on atmosphere and light on content. My overriding memory is of endless shots of Kahn as he wanders about outdoors and looks frustrated.
That doesn’t exactly make for scintillating viewing. Essentially, Kahn creates a two-hour wankfest in which he congratulates himself on his cleverness. Unfortunately, there’s nothing very clever on display. The premise is slight and the information found along the way offers little of interest. Not only that, but it takes forever to tell us very little. Occasionally we find some actual notes about Shyamalan, his past and his films, but there’s nowhere near enough content of that sort to make Secret an interesting documentary.
Instead, it lives and dies on its conspiracy premise, and that renders it a failure. Not broad enough to become a good spoof and not intriguing enough to become an interesting mystery, The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan fails in almost all possible ways. For every semi-cool moment - like an appearance by Johnny Depp - it includes many dopey ones. It’s bad, self-indulgent filmmaking and not worth your time.