Those who complain about being tired of M. Night Shyamalan’s bag of tricks, twist endings, Spielbergian style and music, contrived plotting, and naïve characters who speak simplistic, dopey dialogue as they bask in the awe, amazement, and discovery of whatever horrible/amazing thing is happening to them, miss the point that most filmmakers don’t ever come close to achieving that much consistency in a body of work from film to film, let alone over a 10 year period.
When I see his films, I know those faults are there. I don’t go in trying to pick apart the obvious; especially when under the spell of such a master filmmaker. No matter what you think of his movies, they are always gorgeous to look at, have top notch editing, and build dread and ambiance like no mainstream director currently working.
Sure, Lady in the Water was a total incoherent mess, but it was trying something, and more amusing because its experimental nature was on the studio’s dime. So it had top notch production values and decent actors, save Shyamalan, who insisted on casting himself as the Jesus martyr.
If you thought about it, Lady in the Water boiled down to a skinny redheaded girl being helped by a group of tenants to walk from the manager’s room, to the pool some 30 feet away. And The Happening has that same issue. Long suspense scenes are built around characters walking slowly from the shed to the house toward each other, without even any monsters to avoid.
But the key is not to think too much, and the best films don’t allow you to consider how ridiculous every event is. Shyamalan’s masterpiece, Unbreakable, still along with Darkman, the best comic book movie not actually based on a comic book, has scenes of complete nonsense. Bruce Willis’ character discovers his powers by standing in the middle of a train station while people brush up against him. The Village, reviled by many, is subtly a brilliant satire about parents overprotecting their children and the fear of assimilation. It does not work as a film unless the main story falls apart first, and yet so many remain dead set against being patient and allowing the film to perform its magic.
I could easily trot out the obvious problems with The Happening, his not so pointed message film about the collapse of the environment. While the opening suicide scenes are pretty surprising and horrifying, eventually the consistently falling bodies at a construction site resemble a Monty Python sketch, and almost nail down the satirical excessiveness of Starship Troopers, if The Happening were not so deadly sincere.
The exposition is thudding, and poorly doled out by actors who are uniformly stiff, and the dialogue is generally perfunctory. The brutal deaths in the film all look like second unit stuff, as if Shyamalan didn’t have the heart to shoot them himself. Zooey Deschanel, normally luminous and funny, looks like an even wider-eyed Olive Oyl throughout. Mark Wahlberg, always the petulant teenager, no matter his age (and playing a science teacher!), appears to be attempting to make himself the squarest white person alive, as if he saw a lot of black comedians doing their “white voice” and considered it thorough research and duplicated it. It would also not be out of line to compare it to Stephen King’s hokey Maximum Overdrive, except instead of machines revolting, it deals with the planet itself.
None of this is incorrect, and yet the movie is suspenseful, unnerving, ballsy in its violence, breaking a few Hollywood no-nos, funny (it has a line about “a completely superfluous bottle of cough syrup”), and emotional. I’m not embarrassed to say I thought it was refreshing and quite entertaining. So you’ll probably hate it.