The words ‘M Night Shyamalan’ don’t exactly inspire confidence, especially for anyone who has had the misfortune of sitting through After Earth.
However, alongside writer and co-producer Chad Hodge, the mystical career regenerative powers of serialised television have been put to mostly good use via Wayward Pines.
Seeing Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon) waking up in the titular town, the opening episodes are suitably atmospheric and mysterious, even if the vibe is inexorably one of Twin Peaks as seen through a funhouse mirror.
You have ice cream-chomping sheriff Arnold Pope (Terrence Howard), the Nurst Ratchet-esque Pamela Pilcher (Melissa Leo) and the outwardly grandfatherly yet obviously shady Dr Jenkins (Toby Jones). It’s engaging, but hardly revolutionary.
Then a few episodes in, everything we think we know gets thrown in the air without warning, and an entirely different show emerges. Shyamalan has built his career on pulling the proverbial chair from underneath his viewers, but this is the closest something with his name on it has come to matching the ‘he was dead all along’ epiphany of The Sixth Sense.
This plot device hasn’t always worked in his films, but here it turns Wayward Pines into a different – and most importantly, better – show.
It does help that he has a lot of talent on his side. Jones and Leo show their class once more by stealing every scene they’re in, and the likes of Carla Gugino and Juliette Lewis all have pivotal moments.
One of the biggest revelations of all is Dillon, however. Initially a fish out of water, his character changes with the show, resulting in one of his best performances to date.
Wayward Pines does occasionally venture into hammy territory, and not every plot hole will have been explained to everyone’s satisfaction – a consequence of the show’s mid-season identity crisis while it attempts to determine exactly what it is.
What is left is a spooky and compulsively watchable pot boiler.