Well, I’m back, with apologies for a couple of weeks’ absence, and with some more facile musings. I’ve dumped all over M. Night Shyamalan in this space before, and it would be tempting to do it again, but I haven’t actually seen The Happening yet, so I won’t officially trash it right this minute. However, the vox populi has spoken, and the movie is officially a bomb, which makes three in a row for our boy, following up the atrocities of The Village and Lady in the Water. Which means it might, perhaps be time for a re-evaluation of the auteur, perhaps even time for a different branch of fandom to claim him for their own.
Let’s put Shyamalan side by side with Edward D. Wood, Jr. Now Wood is the Supreme Deity of Badfilm. There are pretenders to the throne (most notably Doris Wishman), but Wood still rules over all. There are other filmmakers who are arguably just as incompetent, but, as has been argued before, what distinguishes Wood from his peers in badness is the fact that his films are earnestly meant. He wasn’t just pumping out hackwork. He was attempting, in his own charmingly misbegotten fashion, to create art. He had messages. He had things to say, even if no one else understood a blessed word.
I submit that all of this is also true of Shyamalan. Yes, there are some differences. Shyamalan is working with much bigger budgets, actors who are at their peaks and not in terminal, drug-addled decline, and he has real skill. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable work very well indeed, and Signs, though not without elements of enormous stupidity, is terrific when it isn’t being awful. Nonetheless, even those early films show the … er… signs of what would turn out to be fatal flaws: deliberate pacing that can veer to the lugubrious, self-indulgent cameos, and unsubtle portentousness. With the last two films, those negative qualities wound up dominating everything else, and became unbearable. But maybe we are reaching a tipping point of awfulness. Bad films, when they are terrible enough, travel though a dark tunnel and come out the other end as great again, in an admittedly perverse fashion. Could we be reaching that moment with The Happening?
There’s that title, of course, so hilariously full of its own importance. It calls to mind such delightful self-regard present in the taglines of such awful (but, crucially, beloved) films as Earthquake (“And event…”) and John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy (“The Monster Movie”). The test will be in whether The Happening’s flaws are entertaining enough to make it worth watching the film for precisely those reasons. This wasn’t the case with The Village, which was simply infuriating, predictable and dull, but I have to say that I had plenty of nasty pleasure watching Lady in the Water. I’ve read that much the same kind of joy is to be had with The Happening. I’ll have to see for myself. But it may well be that Shyamalan should take heart. Perhaps out there, a new fan base is forming, one that will loyally anticipate each new film of his. For all the wrong reasons, of course, but a fan is a fan is a fan, right?