Thursday, May 22, 2008

Something's 'happening' here (and what it is ain't exactly clear).

Also benefiting The Incredible Hulk is that it will be opening against the third most pressured movie of the summer, M Night Shyamalan's The Happening. Shyamalan has inexplicably lost favor with the public after basically one bad film - Lady In The Water. I liked The Village, and history will be kind to it (it was not a horror film but a thoughtful and disturbing parable of how governments use irrational fear to keep the populace distracted). This, despite making two obscenely successful and well-liked mainstream thrillers (The Sixth Sense and Signs) and two personal dramas that made a lot of money despite being divisive (Unbreakable and The Village). The Happening is his alleged return to his roots, a scary, moody thriller that is closer to Signs than Unbreakable. That he was encouraged to include R-rated content means that everyone is playing for keeps. On the plus side, the film cost under $60 million, so as long as it doesn't outright flop, it should be profitable.

As for me, M. Night Shyamalan still remains one of my favorite directors. The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are two of the best films of this decade. Signs, tense and suspenseful as hell, was a simpler film. He called it his 'Wal-Mart film', having been burned by the response of Unbreakable. But even his stupid is smarter than most people's intellectual.

Even his lesser works, be it the flawed but interesting The Village, or the complete misfire of Lady In The Water, feel wholly original and the work of someone who truly gives a damn. His directorial style resembles a twisted Claude Chabrol and his dialogue is always refreshingly human. While his scripts are hit and miss, he is never less than a visionary pro behind the camera. He pulls terrific performances out of mainstream stars like Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson and peppers the rest of his cast with interesting character actors. Even if The Happening underwhelms (as one off-hand web review claims), I will continue to look forward to this most unique auteur, whose successes are beyond compare and who's failures are always the result of trying too much, rather than daring too little. He is an American original and should be treated as such.

Scott Mendelson

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