The Happening: Movie Mash

Opening this Friday along with the aforementioned Incredible Hulk universe reboot is the latest film from the once-critical darling M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong (Shyamalan). After scaring us with The Sixth Sense, making us fan boys geek-out with Unbreakable, and- uh- pissing us all off with The Village, what the hell happened to this guy's career? I can remember a time, slightly before Signs hit the theaters, where people were ranting and raving about Shama-lama's films and how he was destined to be the next Hitchcock.

Then Signs hit, and was almost universally panned. The Village, a sure-fire come-back hit, flopped miserably. Lady in the Water, well, no one saw Lady in the Water. Before I go any further, let me assure you this isn't just going to be an article bashing M. Night's work. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of his films. I'll admit that Unbreakable and Lady in the Water were the only ones that I've watched more than once, but that doesn't change my appreciation for all of his individual projects.

So, now that we've established this article as not being another circle-flaming piece of troll bait, let me seriously reiterate the following question: What the hell happened to this guy's career? For my money, I view his work as well worth the price of admission. I may not care for the actors (Osmond), or I may see the twist coming a mile away (looking at you, Village), but I can confess to never looking at my watch during my first sit through of any of Night's films. That's saying something.

So where did he lose the audience? Where did he lose the critics? The guy's become a laughing stock, an apple fallen very far from the proverbial tree. The way folks are talking, The Happening may be the last film Shama-Lama is able to write and direct and secure funding for. Ever.

The biggest complaints I've heard is over-simplified stories; emotionless, unpenetrable lead characters; heavy handed message delivery and storytelling; and a general air of pretentiousness. I don't really get that last one. Sure, in his interviews, the guy sounds like every movie he makes is going to be the next big thing, but isn't that the kind of passion you want from a person creating something? I have never felt as though a character in one of his films was talking down to me or scolding me for holding traditional, contemporary values. Not even in The Village which was all about a society of people shunning modern life. It's a complaint that just doesn't ring true to me.

I think the real problem people have is that M. Night Shymalan's films are intellectual. Well, to a point anyway. They are not filled with standard Hollywood bump-in-the-night-scares or a thousand-explosions-a-minute-action. They require some thinking to get the most out of the story. Case and point: Signs.

When I went to see Signs (starring Mel Gibson, still hiding the crazy) in the theater, a group of teenage males sat behind me. The lights went down and I was treated to the story of a troubled minister, thrown into a world turned upside down, confronting his own self doubts and regaining his faith in God. The lights came up and the teenagers said "Where the hell were all the aliens? This sucked." They hadn't even remotely seen the same movie I had. Sure, they sat and watched the same visuals up on the screen and heard all the same dialogue, but they just weren't watching the same movie.

Anyway, I'm not trying to blow magic happy smoke up Shammy's ass either. I'll admit that he's never hit quite the same stride he did with his first movie out the gate. But really, movies like The Sixth Sense only come around every so often. It's unreasonable to expect the same perfect cumulation of elements out of every successive project. Unbreakable is a far superior film that isn't so overly reliant on what amounts to nothing more than a gimmick. Signs is a great tale of redemption. Lady in the Water is a wonderful children's bedtime story. The Village- well, fuck The Villiage, we all have our off days.

As for The Happening, if the story looks good to you, go see it. Don't get worked up about is this better than The Sixth Sense or what the stupid twist at the ends is going to be. Just go and enjoy the story. This man's career needs the vote of confidence that only our hard-earned movie dollars can provide. Love him or hate him, no one else in Hollywood is making films quite like Shymalan. I for one would like him to be able to continue.


Anonymous said...

Unbreakable was an amazing movie.
Thoughts on a sequel?
Do you know if there is one in the works?

Doc Manson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

At one time Unbreakable was planned to be a trilogy. I've heard conflicting reports as to whether or not the sequels were dropped due to poor box office performance or if the desicion to do a stand alone film was made ahead of time and the story adjusted. Either way, Shammy has gone on record as saying he feels the most interesting part of the story has been told. Unfortunate for us that would like to see more of the world and characters, but it's true that any followup would likely play much more like a typical superhero film.