In which Gerry Hayes wonders just who it is that keeps giving money to M. Night Shyamalan…
M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN
Something a little different this week. Last week, as I bitched and moaned about Unbreakable, I noted that I could do a series on the films of M. Night Shyamalan. I won’t subject you to that but I thought I’d take a look at three films here in one column.
If you’re daft enough to care, there will be spoilers.
THE HAPPENING (2008)
Bad-mouthing The Happening is like shooting giant sea-turtles in a barrel. There’s just so much that’s wrong with it that it’s hard to even know where to start. Even the film’s tagline is so achingly awful that makes your teeth cry: We’ve Sensed It. We’ve Seen The Signs. Now… It’s Happening.
What there is of a story concerns our old friend, Mark Wahlberg. He plays Elliot Moore, a high-school science teacher that seems never to have taken a science class in his life – when a student answers a science question with ‘an act of nature’ (a meaningless, non-answer to anything) Elliot says ‘nice answer… science will come up with some reason to put in the books but it’ll be just a theory… we will fail to acknowledge there are forces at work beyond our understanding’. What? That’s not a science class, idiot. Elliot’s class seems one where they ‘teach the controversy’. One where science seems not to matter and moronic tosh of ‘mysterious ways beyond our ken’ is pummelled into its place.
Before he can move on to Advanced Sasquatch Anatomy, Elliot’s class is interrupted by the principal. He tells them ‘there appears to be an event happening’. Hearing this line on the trailer, before I’d even seen the film, was enough to convince me of its worth.
The event that appears to be happening, for those that don’t know, is that people all over the place get a bit dopey and then kill themselves in inventive fashion. Elliot and his missus, along with some others, flee the city.
Along the way, Elliot (the science teacher) learns, from a guy who sells shrubs, that trees can talk to bushes and that all the plants have been conspiring to kill humans by making people a bit stupid and suicidal. Armed with this knowledge, and his extensive science background, Elliot leads his band through an incongruously-placed shooting incident and further into the realm of the killer trees.
Luckily, we discover from a shoe-horned-in TV scientist that the danger will pass at (the very precise time of) nine o’clock next morning. Elliot has survived. The danger is passed. Or is it? Perhaps, in a few months, at some easily recognisable, international landmark an event will, once again, appear to happen.
Worst. Aliens. Ever.
Seriously. Aliens who make mysterious crop circles that announce their presence (and certainly not the presence of two half-pissed old geezers with a plank and some string) while at the same time skulking around on the roof. And what were they doing on the roof? They’ve mastered interstellar travel but need to peer in windows like space-perverts? Aliens so advanced that a redneck farmer can trap them in the pantry? Aliens that communicate on the same frequency that a baby-monitor uses? Aliens that can be killed by water? Useless, little green bastards.
But, of course, Shyamalan had to crowbar the water thing in there, didn’t he. He’s got a bit of a thing about water, has ol’ M. Fine, we get it, water. Can you stop now?
And while we’re on the subject, possibly the most absurd, half-baked idea (in a film full of them) was when Mel Gibson’s (as the less-than-reverend Hess) family heard the news that a method of defeating the aliens had been discovered but that reports were sketchy and there was little detail. IT’S WATER! Water. It’s not like the report would have required transmission of some complicated chemical formulae. Water. Why didn’t it just say ‘water kills them’? Why?
Once Mel and the gang knew though, well then they were able to make use of all those glasses of water that had, fortuitously, been placed throughout the house without so much as a lampshade on them.
THE VILLAGE (2004)
The least egregious of the three, but don’t be fooled into thinking that The Village is actually any good.
Jaoquin Phoenix plays Lucius, an arsehole who lives in a tiny village in a clearing in the woods in the 19th century. Nobody’s allowed to go into the woods as the adults say that there are monsters there. Lucius cares not a jot and after wandering in a few, cautious, yards, he seems to incur the wrath of the monsters who, under cover of night, slaughter livestock and paint red crosses on some doors. Ooooooh.
To make matters worse, Lucius is involved in a love-triangle with the local blind girl and the local idiot. Idiot stabs Lucius and, wouldn’t you know, the blind girl decides to go to get the special ‘stab medicine’ that can make him better. But, she has to go in the woods. Ooooooh.
Making her way through the woods, and mostly avoiding holes, she finds a road. And, oh heavens, a car. An actual automobile. It’s not the 19th century after all. Shyamalan, that wily trickster, has fooled us all. Really the village is just in the middle of a private woods. It was set up by a bunch of rich guys that didn’t like the violence of the modern world so they raised their kids in a forest populated by monsters that terrify them and slaughter livestock. Flawless.
The monsters aren’t real though. It’s just the grown-ups dressed up, traumatising their children to keep them safe.
We’re even told that these guys are so rich they can have air-traffic patterns diverted so that planes will not fly in the sky visible from the village, lest the children see. Personally, I’d have thought that, if they can convince the kids that a monster lives in the woods, they could probably have spun them a yarn about sky-sprites or something, but that’s probably why I’m not a rich chancer.
Oddly, The Village isn’t utter drivel. I actually quite enjoyed it for a bit. If it had continued in the ‘something in the woods’ vein, it could have been a good film. It was nicely atmospheric and had a suspenseful, eerie feel. But he had to put in the twist, didn’t he. Here, especially, it feels like a twist for twist’s sake and it ruins the film.
It’s turned out to be a little longer than usual, this week but you did get three for the price of one. Odds are pretty good that, when I can’t think of a topic next week, I’ll be kicking myself. How will I ever find another bad film to whinge about? Woe is me.
Read more I Sat Through That? right here.
Gerry Hayes is a garret-dwelling writer subsisting on tea, beer and Flame-Grilled Steak flavour McCoy’s crisps. You can read about other stuff he doesn’t like on his blog at http://stareintospace.com or you can have easy, bite-sized bits of him at http://twitter.com/gerryhayes