"what just happened?"

by robbiefreeling
June 19, 2008 11:35 AM
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Each of M. Night Shyamalan’s studio films thus far have employed, or even exploited, genre scenarios to similar ends—to question the unknown, to collapse boundaries between well-trod fantasy tropes and untranslatable spirituality, and ultimately, to preach the importance of human connection in the face of trauma or even tragedy. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs seemed less interested, respectively, in ghosts, superheroes, and aliens, than in the intuitive human healing that their presence brought about. It’s precariously new age, and it’s certainly no surprise to hear him in interviews talk of his target audience as “the collective soul.” If The Village easily remains his greatest film thus far (and possibly the most accomplished, coherent social allegory to come out of Hollywood in this politically catastrophic decade), it’s in part because in it he purposefully bumped up against the limits of all these things: the unknown was explicitly revealed as hokum (or as William Hurt’s elder called it, “farce”), belief was betrayed, egalitarianism turned to rancid, nearly fascistic self-preservation. Yet despite The Village’s political and social cynicism, Shyamalan managed to offer a portrait of blossoming love so genuinely touching, so well performed (by Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix), and given such generous narrative weight, equal to its explicitly sham horror thread, that the film left in the dust the self-help guru trappings that so many people see in his oeuvre. The Village proved that Shyamalan doesn’t mean to just work big-L love (between estranged couples, tentative lovers, family members) in as a plot expedient but as a unifying plasma, and that he’s disinterested in utilizing sci-fi and fantasy detritus without it as an adhesive.

But if Signs, with its religious coddling, and Lady in the Water, with its frazzled, bogus attempts at community building and self-reflexive storytelling, showed the biggest chinks in Shyamalan’s armor so far, exposing as they did the director’s penchant for easy narrative wrap-ups and a distressing spiritual determinism, then his latest film, the already reviled The Happening, rightfully holds the director up to the harshest scrutiny yet. Click here to read the rest of Michael Koresky's review of The Happening.

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  • Luke | November 18, 2008 10:35 AMReply

    M. Night was once inspired and made good films. Then he proceeded to completely buy his own hype in what I believe will become a history lesson and cautionary tale for future generations of filmmakers. His habit of parading his name around on his films combined with his conspicuous and arbitrary cameos are metaphors for misplaced priorities, as they have nothing to do with storytelling and everything to do with polishing his ego.

  • Ryland Walker Knight | June 25, 2008 6:47 AMReply

    Two things:
    1. I find this promo pic (sans bullet hole and blood) almost comical: what's he hearing?

    2. The edit from the end of this shot to the overhead shot of the train is one of the best single edits of his career, I think. Not quite a match-cut but I really dig how the movement carries over: you don't see the lady fall to the right but you see her ankles turn, and then the train is bending to the right. Simple, but awesome. Funny that THAT moment is what stood out the most to me, right? Right. Because, yeah, I agree with Michael: it's not outright terrible but it's not a resounding success to say the least.

  • Lou Kije | June 20, 2008 1:59 AMReply

    I think the review is totally on the mark...The only thing I find sad is having to put that much good, decent thought into a movie that was such a large misfire.

    If you paid for your tickets, I think you should join the largest protest in cinematic history and ask for a refund from Rupert Murdoch. Someone's gotta pay for this, I see no reason why it has to be you.

    Details at: TheNotHappening.com