Thursday, May 30, 2013
Riske Business: The Happening: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
First things first. The Happening is a terrible movie. Just look at the impassioned critiques it inspired from my colleagues at F This Movie!:
“…an interesting failure… but definitely an abortion” – Doug
“I don't mean to sound crass, but what the F? Who approved the script? Who approved the movie at all? Somehow the director was able to make EVERY actor terrible, while saying the worst lines... ("It makes you kill yourself. Just when you thought there couldn't be any more evil invented!" OR "Don't take my daughter's hand unless you mean it!" OR "I see you eyein' my lemon drink." OR...) I don't think I was supposed to be laughing. The movie looked pretty. That is fine. But everything else was pretty terrible. Pretentious? Shyamalan took an interesting idea and peed all over it.” - Erika
“Not only the worst horror film ever made, but I think it’s one of the worst films ever made.” - JB
“It is a fall from grace like you’ve never seen.” – Patrick
I remember seeing an interview with Quentin Tarantino where he describes the relationship between a film director and their audience, comparing it to having an umbilical cord connecting the two. It is ok to confuse an audience for a while but they always need to know that they are in good hands. When that bond is severed, the director can never get the audience back. This is exactly what happened to M Night Shyamalan in 2004 with The Village.
Let’s go back to July 30, 2004. It was opening night for both Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and The Village. My friends Brad, Chris and I went to our local megaplex and saw them back to back. Boy did we love Harold & Kumar!* Following those comedic heights, we went to see the new Shyamalan movie. At the time, audiences (including us) were in awe of Shyamalan. The Sixth Sense was awesome, Unbreakable was interesting and Signs was solid too. We were putty in Night’s hands. And then he betrayed our trust.
What is “The Happening”? It’s a breakdown in an individual’s mental state, beginning with mild confusion and memory loss, which then progresses to complete disorientation and compels individuals to commit suicide. I think Shyamalan is saying that audiences are having a mental breakdown because we no longer see him as a genius. We must be confused. Don’t we remember how great he once was? We must be crazy not to like The Village and especially Lady in the Water! With The Happening, it’s as if he’s saying "You know what, I’m going to make a movie so bad it will make you want to kill yourself."
Ok, next: the Happening in The Happening is mysterious and unexplainable. Here is where I think Shyamalan is grasping at straws. He’s backpedaling a bit. He really is bothered by the fact that we don’t like him anymore and he wants answers. This is seen (um..heard) in his cameo as Joey, the guy who won’t stop calling Zooey Deschanel’s character and also in the scene near the beginning where Mark Wahlberg is sort of hitting on one of his students. He tells the student that he has perfect features, but in a few years little variations will happen and those perfect features will now seem whack. Kind of like how audience thought all of Shyamalan’s features were awesome in 1999 but were kind of whack in 2004 and 2006.
Why the decision to go with airborne toxins? This one is easy. Airborne toxins = negative word of mouth. We’re the ones spreading the disease, especially when we’re in groups. And for that, Shyamalan wants to kill us. Night has a history with this. Do you think it was an accident that he viciously killed off the movie critic character in Lady in the Water? Shyamalan reacts very poorly to negative criticism.
Furthermore, the newscasts shown at the beginning of The Happening are very strange. They seem to know all about the epidemic within minutes. They have day-of autopsy reports. I think this is Shyamalan’s dig at entertainment and box office reports -- the kind that said his past two movies were dead on-arrival critically and/or financially from their opening day.
Am I reading too much into The Happening? I don’t think I am. Want to know why? Because Signs taught us that nothing is random, accidental or circumstantial. Swing away, Riske!
*After seeing The Village, Brad, Chris and I went to White Castle and came up with the dumb idea of having a burger eating contest. Brad punked out early but Chris and I went on and on. We got up to nine burgers for me and 10 for him. Chris was the winner by technicality, but we were both about to become big losers by fate. As I tried to drive home, I had to roll my car seat WAY back to accommodate my massive burger gut. Chris and I were both gasping for summer air with the power windows rolled down and the A/C on full blast. Chris pleaded and sweated all the way back to his house for me to drive faster, as he needed a toilet. The gas was on par with chemical warfare.
Cut to the next day: Chris and I were both invited to our friend Danielle’s college graduation party. It was a pool party. Chris and I both were really into Danielle and all of her friends were pretty lovely as well. Before we went to the party, Chris and I stopped at Best Buy to buy gift cards for Danielle. I turned to Chris who still reeked of onions and gas and told him "Dude, you stink." He replied "I thought that was you!" At the party, the girls were on point and I was in agony. It was like being invited to the Playboy Mansion and then having...well…horrible gas. It is a day that will haunt me for the rest of my life.