Trey Parker once sang, “Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?” and after seeing The Happening on DVD, I’m beginning to think the same thing about M. Night Shyamalan.
Once the brilliant young newcomer, Shyamalan’s talent seems to have completely dissipated, leaving only ego and self-importance. Like the Kanye West of cinema, he seems to believe that every film he’s made since 1999’s The Sixth Sense is the greatest thing ever to grace the screen and those who criticize or question his work are simply unworthy of his genius.
Shyamalan, once among the highest paid screenwriters in the business, seemed to have genuine talent. Unbreakable, despite it’s mixed reviews, was an interesting new take on a superhero story which focused on character rather than action. In a time before Christopher Nolan took the helm of the Batman franchise, this kind of well-acted, slowed-down comic book film wasn’t exactly commonplace.
Signs, which was a major box office success, kept things interesting with plot twists and callbacks that became trademark Shyamalan. Not only was it the film debut of Little Miss Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin, but Joaquin Phoenix was great and I didn’t even mind crazy ass Mel Gibson as the lead character. Like an updated version of a 1950s movie about invasion from outer space, the film had a few fun suspenseful jumps and avoided showing too much of the aliens. Sure, the aliens could be killed by water, which makes no sense at all, but the overall film experience was still fun.
The Village marked the beginning of the end with it’s overly drawn-out shots and a twist that could have been spotted from a mile away. The usually clever Shyamalan seemed to have fallen victim to his own self-importance. Didn’t like the artistic style? Thought the story could have been written by a 15-year-old? Well then you just weren’t smart enough to understand how fantastically talented the young director really was.
All this was illustrated in the “unauthorized documentary” The Buried Secrets of M. Night Shyamalan. When it aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, the special was billed as a tell-all about a mysterious and secretive director. Everyone seemed to have a tale about Shyamalan’s hidden past and the director himself was shrouded in mystery, refusing to complete interviews and reveal details about his “true” background. Of course, the whole thing was later revealed to be a fake promitional piece for The Village. I’m guessing the decision to announce that the whole thing was just a “mocumentary” only occurred after viewers easily spotted how contrived it was. Still, it reaked of arrogance.
Shyamalan believed he was so fascinating that he was worthy of being the subject of an investigation. Everyone was talking about him, right? Everyone wanted to know how he became so awesome and how he was so talented, right? So he concocted a gimick like a bad William Castle to try to draw people to the theaters for his latest “masterpiece” by making himself the central draw.
This arrogant attitude was echoed and amplified by The Happening, a film that is high on my list of worst movies of 2008.
For those who haven’t seen it–and it must be a lot of you since the grosses were less than stellar–the central concept of the film is that a mysterious wave of mass suicides have swept the globe. Did I say globe? I meant, only a few small areas of the North East because apparently nothing happens outside of New York or Pennsylvania. Soon, high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) seems to be the only person who can solve the mystery. After fleeing the city with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and best friend Julian, a math teacher played by John Leguizamo, Elliot concludes that the reason for the bizarre behavior is a toxin emitted by plants as a defense mechanism because humans are destroying the earth.
In one particularly lame sequence, Elliot makes an attempt to reason with a plant telling it he means it no harm and begging it not to kill him and his group of refugees. While (hopefully) played for comedy, the scene is so unthinkably bad that I can only imagine poor Wahlberg reading the script and thinking “Really? An entire conversation with a fake ficus?!”
The film gets even worse as Elliot and company try to flee from the toxin by freaking out and running away anytime the wind blows, literally. All the while, they spout ridiculous dialogue about problems in their marriage like some kind of eco-conscious soap opera.
After reading the reviews, I expected The Happening to be bad, just not this bad.
So I ask: why does M. Night Shyamalan get to keep making movies? Clearly his talent and ego are not in proportion as he seems to think he’s more awesome with each increasingly terrible film he makes. What happened to the promising young director I used to really like? Perhaps that’s the real mystery of his films.