Tuesday, January 06, 2009

For Some Reason, I Watched The Happening

(Note: I actually watched the film and wrote the bulk of this entry several weeks ago, but neglected to post it. My roommate watching The Village for the first time today reminded me, and I want to start reviewing movies new and old more often anyway, so I dusted it off, and here it is.)

M. Night Shyamalan writes like a film school student.

Honestly, I wish he was a film school student, because then I could say he has promise, and be excited about the possibilities. If I saw one of the suicide scenes from The Happening in a student thesis project, I think I'd sully my drawers. This is a guy who knows how to communicate visual ideas in very powerful, visceral ways.

Unfortunately, Shyamalan is not a film school student. He is a filmmaker who has been on the radar for nearly a decade, with half a dozen Hollywood movies under his belt, all of them with budgets in excess of $50 million dollars; and for all of the power of his visual ideas, he seems incapable of even conceiving, much less communicating, intellectual ideas anymore.

The quality of Shyamalan's storytelling has decreased on an almost exponential curve since The Sixth Sense, which I thought was fantastic. I don't care if it was based on an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, it was a fine piece of genre filmmaking. But the success and praise of Sixth Sense seems to have gone to his head, and he thinks he can do no wrong.

Unbreakable was flawed, but still watchable. The payoff was a bit of a letdown, and Bruce Willis' ability to see into peoples' secrets via touch was a straight rip-off of Stephen King's The Dead Zone, but I'm still up for a go at Unbreakable 2.

Signs had tremendous promise in its premise, but was more aptly named than I think MNS realized, because it was here that we started to see the signs that he was losing his way. His cameo became a pivotal character with quite a bit of screen-time. Look, we know you think you're the next Hitchcock, but limit yourself to walking a dog in the background, okay? We started to see that he wasn't really trying anymore in terms of the story, not only creating a bizarre deus ex machina (having a little girl develop a strange, never-happens-in-real-life quirk of leaving half-filled glasses of water all over the place, for no other reason than that the end of the movie wouldn't work otherwise), but alerting the audience to the fact that it was such by having it literally communicated in a "revelation from God."

And I'm late to the party on this, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out again that these superior alien beings -- who have been observing and studying this planet for at least 40 years, and therefore must be aware that 70% of the planet consists of a substance that is lethal to the touch for them -- saw fit to land anyway, and walk around naked.1 Apparently not a single one of them could envision a scenario where that wouldn't go well, whereas I'm hard-pressed to envision a scenario in which it would.

Then there was The Village...for fuck's sake. First of all, he plagiarized another kids' story. This time a Grade 5-8 novel, Running Out of Time. Spoilers on that page.2

Did you see the trailer but not the film? About how this village bordered a forest filled with some kind of intelligent monsters, who lived a tenuous coexistence until the creatures decided that they'd gotten tired of the villagers' stupid faces and slathered red X's on their doors, in a substance suspiciously blood-like, as a warning that they'd better get the fuck out tout de suite? The tagline, Run. The truce is ending?

Yeah, the movie's not about that. At all. It pretends it is for the first third of the movie or so, but it's not. I wish like hell it was, because that is a fucking fantastic premise. But it isn't. It's about some blind girl going on a journey to get penicillin to cure her boyfriend, who got stabbed by her retarded friend. It was like Shyamalan spent $20 million dollars in marketing to get everyone in the theatres, only to RickRoll them a third of the way in. I wish he had RickRolled us, in fact, because then I might have at least sat in awe at the sheer balls of it.3 After all, a RickRoll is just a practical joke. It was clear with The Village that he actually thought he was doing good work.

And that's the real problem with Shyamalan. He thinks he's doing good and be damned to the critics. Lady in the Water made this point blatantly, with one character being a movie critic who didn't know what he was talking about (another character remarks "What kind of person would be so arrogant as to presume the intention of another human being?") and another character, a writer, being the hope for salvation of all mankind (and played, I'm sure coincidentally, by Shyamalan himself).

Maybe people who respond negatively to your movies aren't idiots, MNS. Maybe you're making bad movies.

But of course, the closest he'll get to admitting that he made a bad movie is by saying, as he has with The Happening, that he did it on purpose. "It's the best B-movie you'll ever see," he says.

Okay, first off: fuck you. Don't tell me what the best B-movie I've ever seen is. I'll be the judge. Technically Star Wars is a B-movie. Likewise Raiders of the Lost Ark. And Croenenberg's The Fly. And Carpenter's The Thing. Your movie is not even qualified to lick the balls of those films, much less stand in their presence as an equal, much less claim to have surpassed them.

I'd say that he should have said it's the best B-movie he's made, but not even that is accurate. That would be The Sixth Sense. The Happening is just another embarrassment in an ever-lengthening lineage.

Secondly, that's not what you were saying before it came out. You were saying this was the first R-rated movie you ever made and you were pushing it to make it as hard and scary as you could. Don't turn around just because you failed and pretend you meant to. That's George Lucas crap.

The Happening is about how the plants decide to kill everyone by emitting a toxin that removes the human preservation instinct. Okay, a little pulpy, but I can deal with that premise. People not having the sense to protect themselves, however, is not the same as people intentionally stabbing themselves in the neck, jumping off buildings, or lying down in front of a riding lawnmower.

The premise is kind of a rip-off of Stephen King's 2006 novel Cell, in which a cell phone signal called "the Pulse" somehow shuts down the higher functions of the brain, turning everyone who uses a cell phone, from the moment the Pulse hits onward, into violently insane madmen and -women. (Also they become telekinetic. Or something. That part's not appropriated in Happening.)

It should be no surprise by now that Shyamalan is a plagiarizing hack, nor that he went after Stephen King's idea, nor indeed that Cell did it better. (Although I suppose we should give him credit for at least ripping of a book for grown-ups this time around.) The acting in The Happening is laughably shitty, the plot and actions of the characters who are not supposed to be the insane ones make no logical sense, and instead of being intense, it's intensely boring.

But from a visual standpoint, Shyamalan has promise and I honestly think he can be great, but he has to get it out of his head that he is great no matter what he does. He is only great if he does a great job, and he has to be willing to listen -- if not to everybody, then he has to find some person or small group of people who can get through to him.

And he has to stop writing his own scripts. Please somebody stop him from writing.

Because it already sounds like he's fucking up The Last Airbender, and someone needs to do something.

  1. I thought about putting a spoiler alert on this post, but fuck it. If you haven't seen these flicks by now, it's obviously not high on your list of priorities, and besides the twists are retarded. I just saved you an hour and a half.

  2. There. My conscience got the best of me on the spoiler thing. It's still retarded.

  3. I'm aware that RickRolling hadn't been invented yet. (Oh, for those earlier times.) You get my drift.


Judith Allen said...

I hadn't seen The Happening.... and didn't care about reading a 'spoiler'.... his so-called twists have been blindingly obvious in everything bar The Sixth Sense, and since I've read SK's Cell I'm not sure I'll bother.

I did think while reading though that Cell had the potential for a totally fantastic film. Shame that it's essentially been done but badly.

aTanguay said...

I watched this just last week while sick with the flu, and I think it set me back a few days in my recovery...and possibly gave me bronchitis.

You're totally on the money here. M. Knight Shamaylan is an incredible hack that somehow pulled a couple of good movies out of his hat...depending on how you feel about 'Unbreakable'. I don't know how he did it, but somehow he did. But the man is a menace.

'The Happening' was terrible in every way. I honestly don't think the concept is any more ridiculous than a lot of movies, but the way that he handled every single element made it laughable.

It was also sad to see a bad actor like Mark Wahlberg just hung out to dry by this guy. He's generally passable because he's got someone like Scorsese putting peanut butter on the roof of his mouth just right to get something decent out of him, but you can tell that he was just left to his own devices here, and WOW. There were times when I wanted to say to someone...did you just hear that? Sadly I watched it on my own.

Rin said...

I've decided to go to the wiki articles about his films instead of watching them at this point. At least that way the story and execution of said story seem somewhat awesome.

What really broke it for me was his character/role in "Lady in the Water." I think in all writer's eyes, even if he had been doing 100% stellar work up to that point, he became a little to narcissistic.

Rin said...

Oddly enough, I just looked at the wiki entry for "Lady in the Water." The entire blow by blow of the plot has been removed.


Dorkman said...

Judith: I didn't ruin anything for you, actually. You find out it's the plants about 20 minutes in. Happening doesn't even bother to have a twist.

Dorkman said...

aTanguay: oh man, I forgot to give Marky Mark a special shout out in the post. But I had to pause the film when he spoke his first line, because I literally couldn't stop laughing. His delivery sounded exactly like Saturday Night Live "parodies" of his acting. I was just blown away.

Master Zap said...

I actually think "The Village" is bad in totally different way. I actually *like* the "oh i thought it was about this, it's actually not" (although yes, I agree, the trailers were misleading beyond what is perhaps excusable).

The "real" problem with The Village is the plot makes no sense. Their logic is "send the blind girl because she is the only one who can leave the village without seeing the outside world without realizing what it is" makes zero sense, when any of the adults, who knew full well the situation (and even had paid to make the bloody reserve in the 1st place) could just have walked out and got the magik meducin....

What I don't get is the large set of people I know who actually thinks "Ubreakable" is a good film. I think it is the most boring, retarded piece of crap.


*_*Antoine*_* said...

Sigh ... Avatar: The Last Airbender. What a great show ... What were they thinking when they signed M. Night :(

TheGamut said...

If George Lucas can write his own poop and expect everyone to eat it, MNS can do it, too. Except, MNS is actually eating someone else's stuff and pooping out a script from that.

*spoiler* GL keeps eating his own poop and poops out more. Oh wait. That's not a spoiler... but it's still fairly nasty.

The problem with the biz is that one must have confidence to get anywhere in it. Many tend to keep in mind that they are, in fact, Human. Some just go the extreme. It's the nature of the beast. I can only hope that MNS learns to humble himself and do something like an animated slapstick comedy under a different name. The guy needs a break from the "serious" rut where he's stuck. (Pun was not originally intended, but meh.)

It's not unlike GL, who needs to get away from pushing his old standards on us in an attempt to try to grab a new audience. The old audience of the old standards greatly affects the opinions of the new audience. To grab a new generation, one has to come up with something that's actually new so they won't alienate the older generations by $*#@ing their memories. It's not easy in this day and age, but new stuff keeps coming out, so it must be possible. Of course, there are some exceptions, but they are few and far between. (I would not consider ST to be one continuous thing. While there are many fans of the whole spiel, most of them seem to categorize each series as a separate entity.)

Both of them could use a lot of "stretching" (which in the biz, means going outside one's established formats/stigmas/stereotypes).

Carniphage said...

GL made a good movie with Star Wars & Empire/
Sixth Sense was good.

Perhaps the problem is that these guys have now bought themselves some "creative independence". No longer is there a bunch of shadow writers and studio execs messing with their shit.

The result : crapitude ensues.

Even the smartest of us needs an editor.


Katie said...

While I agree with and accept your other impressions of his films, I really loved Lady in the Water upon my first viewing.

But I think that the difference in our opinions was that I didn't realize that M. Night was playing the writer with the key to everything always. Without knowing that, it's a perfectly enjoyable movie. Knowing that makes me a little sick to my stomach.