June 14, 2008

"A man in the audience yelled, 'I can't take it anymore!' No one shushed him."

Just how bad is "The Happening" — the new M. Night Shyamalan movie? (Not the 1960s movie with the Supremes theme song.) James Kirchick says it's even worse than you think. (Spoilers.) The movie has a "morally appalling premise: that the mere existence of the human race is a cause for great shame." Nature somehow sends a message to everyone to commit suicide:
Shyamalan leaves little to the imagination in depicting man's nature-inflicted suicide. We see a woman stab herself in the neck with a hair pin. A man runs himself over with a lawnmower. On can't help but leave the theater thinking that Shyamalan derives a sick, masochistic pleasure in showing the deaths of all his bit characters, hopeless rubes are these human beings. They drove their SUVs for too long and had a big carbon footprint and now they're go.
Ugh! Obscene.
Is it real?
Is it fake?
Is this game of life a mistake?

ADDED: The 60s movie "The Happening" came out in 1967. And here's a Life magazine cover from that year:

Happenings quickly got tiresome and before long, no one would say the word. Somehow, later we got performance art... and a movie called "The Happening" that seems to have no idea that the word once meant performance art.


amba said...

A fable for our time.

vbspurs said...

Is this game of life a mistake?

Satire can be difficult to understand - most people react to the first level of meaning, without exploring the sub-levels.

But Shyamalan is not a satirist like Sacha Baron Cohen, though his topics and treatment are similar ("e.g., The Village" -- a repressed, religious, rural society scared of the perpetual "Boogeyman" = let's laugh at stupid rubes, which includes the audience).

His is a very poor talent enabled by a new generation of producers and audience which would've consigned him to Ed Wood status in the 1960s.

But today, he's a marquee director.


UWS guy said...

There is a parasite that invades insects and forces them to make suicidal actions in order to be eaten by birds...who's feces the bacteria uses in which to breed.

The parasite uses a kinds of mind control...it makes catapillers climb and hang out on the edge of branches (something they don't normally do).

Anyone else know what I'm talkin' 'bout?

article here

UWS guy said...

I don't get the critique of "morally appalling premise" (outside of almost alliteration). Good movies have to adhere to middle class sensibilities? "Othello was a horrible play, why, what a morally appalling premise."

I haven't seen it yet, but it's not the premise it's how it's executed...as it were.

UWS guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zachary Sire said...

I can't believe they keep giving this guy money to make movies. Every single one he's made (with the exception of Sixth Sense) has been a disaster. Truly awful. Yet, people keep going to them? Masochists!

New York said...

"UWS Guy" has the same liberal contrarian snark as Downtown Lad. Did he move uptown? Or maybe it's a Manhattan thing.

UWS guy said...

Could be an age thing. Andrew Sullivan calls it, "South Park Conservatives".

Trooper York said...

Typical eco-commie crapola. Try the Hulk, he's all natural and a lot more fun. Movies with green monsters are always a lot more fun.

Padre Steve said...

I think I will skip this disaster and go see HULK... or Ironman again!

PatCA said...

M. Knight had one successful movie; Hwood gives about a decade of rope for that. His luck will run out when Mickey Rourke is the only "leading man" who will star in his next film.

BTW I thought that the premise of Othello was that a man goes mad with jealousy, and perhaps his status as an outsider, and murders his innocent wife. Wages of sin and all that--it's moral, not morally appalling. I guess M Knight would have them be enviro activists watching with delight/horror as the serfs commit murder?

Joe said...

Am I the only one who thought that Sixth Sense was dumb as shit as well?

(One of those movies that halfway through you figure out the twist, but refuse to accept it since it's so stupid. Same with The Villagea and that superhero one.)

Beth said...

Anyone here see the movie yet?

Beth said...

"UWS Guy" has the same liberal contrarian snark as Downtown Lad.

No, he's nothing like dtl. There's nothing remotely unreasonable about what he's posted here.

new york, you sound like a sixth-grade Heather guarding the popular kids' lunch table.

Anonymous said...

It's a horror movie. Of course it's going to show bit players butchered in sadistic ways. If that's your complaint, then direct your ire toward the horror genre in general.

My bigger complaint (not having seen the film, but having read reviews) is that it portrays things that are scientifically impossible, even suggesting that what happens as somehow outside the realm of science. Of course, horror films do this all the time, but in the case of The Happening it's inexcusable because the movie seems to take pains to be plausible. It's just a further dumbing down of our understanding of science.

Beth said...

Those pinko commie Hollywood treehuggers have been preaching this sermon for years.

My favorite rendition is 1972's "Frogs," with Ray Milland as the evil plantation owner reaping what he's sown in his lifelong battle with nature. Amphibians, unite!

TWM said...

My son went to see it and texted me during the show to tell me how laughably bad it was. Worse than The Village and I did not think that was possible.

Spread Eagle said...

But but but Shyamalan is an auteur and a genius. Dang, I know I read that somewhere.

Simon said...

There was a comedy central ad many years ago where Janeane Garofalo warned about the evil of the "chain of mediocrity"; evil, Garofalo warned a class of kindergartners, "is in the heart of every woman who told me 'oh, you have to read The Bridges of Madison County, it's the best book.'" I think of her warning every time I read a review fawning over Shyamalan's work; the bar gets lowered every time the trite is mislabeled as visionary. The Sixth Sense I liked, but the rest of his movies have been lukewarm at best.

(I worry that the same dumbing down effect is happening to American oratory as a result of the almost comical mislabeling of Obama as a stirring rhetorician, although I doubt Garofalo would go there with me.)

Freeman Hunt said...

I saw it last night.

Hilarious. It's bad enough that it goes full circle and becomes good because it's funny. People, including myself, were laughing out loud in the theater.


The twist is indeed that all the plants are pissed off at people, so they communicate with each other to emit a chemical that makes us off ourselves.

There were many shots that I assume were supposed to be of menacing plants. Unfortunately it is very hard to make grass, bushes, and trees look menacing, so instead you had a lot of shots of plants waving around in the wind. Apparently the plants control the wind...? Or maybe the wind is mad too. I don't know.

The dialog was *very* poorly written, very awkward. The climax when the main characters come out of their hiding places to "be together" was bizarre and made no sense because one of the characters had already said that the phenomenon would probably peak and then be over. If you thought that it would end, why wouldn't you try to wait it out? Why would you come out when you think that doing so would kill you?

And then very end, which shows the phenomenon starting in Paris, depicts a lot of people in a park. Tell me please, if plants started murdering people, would we maintain *any* parks with plants in them? Come on! People would hate plants! No one would own a single houseplant after that. We'd be dumping Round-Up on our yards and replacing them with gravel. The only places with plants would be uninhabited areas or farms.

Anyway, I've only touched on the badness. There is much more. Bad plot, bad direction, on and on. The badness is so vast that it must be experienced. You have to see it to believe that someone made it. It's Al Gore's wet dream on screen.

I can't believe that the same guy who made The Sixth Sense, Signs, and Unbreakable made this movie.

Revenant said...

The Sixth Sense was a fantastic movie, in my opinion. Unbreakable was pretty good too.

But it would appear that those two movies were flukes. Either that, or he needs to cast Bruce Willis in every film he makes.

reader_iam said...


a sixth-grade Heather

Now, that's witty (hilarious would depend on point of view), Beth. Wonder who did or did not get it, right away, upon reading your comment? (Or at least prior to this one.)

Good job, you.

Beth said...

heh heh, thanks, reader. A little movie humor seemed appropriate here.

Beth said...

revenant, I liked the Sixth Sense, too, and Unbreakable even more. I'm sorry to see him get away from what worked with those; it looks like he's focusing on the gimmick and ignoring the character development that made those two movies work.

Maybe you were kidding, but sure, he should write with Bruce Willis in mind next time.

blake said...

"Othello was a horrible play, why, what a morally appalling premise."

Are you freakin' nuts? The story of a great man whose weaknesses are exploited by evil one? How does that come anywhere close to "Man is a pariah" as a plot premise?

Chip Ahoy said...

Is it real? Is it fake? It this game of life a big mistake? Is this Kentucky Fried or Shake n Bake? Would I eat it in a lake? With a rake? And then a cake? With Jake? Then what shall we make? These questions make me quake. What's your take? Am I awake?

These things I ask when Safari denies connection to a link. But I can see you're trying to show me the lyrics to Supremes, The Happening, and this I can see for myself on YouTube. So, no. It's not real. Not the hair, anyway. But how I do adore those randy sisters. They were the best!

This movie? Bleh. I cannot stand socially conscious movies, therefore I don't. Light hearted comedy, that's the way to go. Right now, I'm enjoying what's being called a music showcase right in my own back yard, a large parking lot actually. Metal. It's quite loud. Makes the floor vibrate. People everywhere milling about. They're all well-behaved and civil.

Bummer about the garden up there in the other post. I like their barrier, class, that. If a woven wooden bench won't stop a wanderer, nothing will.

Unknown said...

I prefer to see the movie myself, prolly when I can get in on DVD. Meanwhile I will remember the petty, trashy right wing brain farts which pass for thinking here. Of course, all neocons are conservations the same way they all love people and want peace, it's only those hateful enviros that are the anti-humanists. Those conservation types are usually the ones attacking the outdoors with trailers of ATVs and snowmobiles pulled by their F-350's. I respect Mr. Shyamalan, he has talent and grace that most here lack. But be safe and go watch some movie made after your favorite comic book hero or video game, with lots of violence and action to keep your juvenile minds occupied.

blake said...

Shyamalan's a guy with a very specific style which just happened to overlap popularity on one occasion. His movies are really quite similar one to the next, it's just that the ghost story one struck a nerve.

Another part of the problem is once you've seen The Twist, you're going to be expecting The Twist in subsequent movies.

I was thinking in terms of Hitchcock, twist-wise. Great suspense director, but I can't think of any movie other than Psycho that actually relied on a startling twist at the end. (And Psycho is a comedy! The Twist is the punch line!)

Note that, as described, The Happening is no more or less pointless than The Birds. The latter doesn't try to moralize, though.

blake said...

Oh, and yeah, Beth, the Nature's Revenge theme was big in the '70s. Besides the classic "Frogs", there's also "Night of the Lepus" (bunnies!),
"Squirm" (worms!), several killer dog flicks, and one where nature rises up against man in the form of everything going berserk.

And they were just as sincere.

Simon said...

Beth said...
"revenant, I liked the Sixth Sense, too, and Unbreakable even more. I'm sorry to see him get away from what worked with those; it looks like he's focusing on the gimmick and ignoring the character development that made those two movies work."

What about Signs? Admittedly I saw it on a plane, which is a sure way to turn Orson Welles into Ed Wood, but going into that after Sixth Sense was terribly disappointing.

Freeman Hunt said...

Note that, as described, The Happening is no more or less pointless than The Birds. The latter doesn't try to moralize, though.

And the latter is well-directed and well-written while the same cannot be said of the former.

Freeman Hunt said...

I should mention that there was one part of the movie that was great where the main characters end up in the house of an isolated and paranoid old woman. That part was actually suspenseful. If they'd made an entire movie about that situation using the same actors, it would have been great.

Anonymous said...

Jakester, is that sublime sarcasm or are you the producer of the film?

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

The latter doesn't try to moralize, though.

The latter had Suzanne Pleshette, and that's enough for me.

Beth said...

Simon, I didn't like Signs as much as the first two movies, but I didn't hate it. The plot didn't grab hold of me, and though I like Joaquin Phoenix and Cherry Jones, nobody else really mattered. The presence of a Culkin, any Culkin, usually lessens my enjoyment.

Beth said...

blake, don't forget The Savage Bees (1976) where swarms of killer bees arrive on a banana boat at the New Orleans port and terrorize the crowds at Mardi Gras. The heroine leads the swarm into the Superdome (they are attacted to her red volkswagon bug -- bug, ha), and turns the temperature way down to freeze 'em.

Beth said...

should mention that there was one part of the movie that was great where the main characters end up in the house of an isolated and paranoid old woman. That part was actually suspenseful.

Freeman, if the old woman's played by Betty Buckley, then I'm not surprised it's the good part of the movie.

Anonymous said...

Oooh! Pissed-off plants! I love pissed-off plants in movies.

Was it Day of the Trifids that had that ice cream truck driving on a road through fields of man-eating Trifids in Spain? It doesn't get any better than that.

And what about Jack Nicholson's first starring role?

Freeman tells us the characters end up in an isolated house with a paranoid old woman. I mean, didn't I see this on late night TV in 1971? Or maybe something that Elvira used to introduce? Of course I was too busy looking at Elvira to notice the movies much.

Anyway, I'm taking the kids to see it tomorrow.

Ed Ward lives!

Anonymous said...

As you can tell from my comment above, I haven't seen the movie yet. But I have one little question about chlorophillic motivation that perhaps Freeman or someone who has seen it could answer.

Why should plants get pissed off at our carbon footprint? Plants breathe in carbon dioxide. That is their stuff of life, along with sunlight and a little water. The more the merrier, as far as your basic plant is concerned. Plants then exhale oxygen, which sustains most of the rest of us. Everybody learned this in the 4th grade, unless, of course, you're from California and make movies.

So, what's wrong with our carbon dioxide? Are the plants angry because George Bush had something to do with it? Or are they shareholders in Exxon/Mobil, and think the current board isn't doing enough to develop a more sustainable business model by finding alternatives to fossil fuels?

Maybe they don't like all that corn getting murdered to make Hamburger Helper for gasoline.

Please advise.

vbspurs said...

Anyone here see the movie yet?

No. This is definitely the kind of film you sneak into, once your main feature has ended. I don't condone such practises of course. ;)

BTW, I'm off to see FINALLY Sex and the City tomorrow. In Boca Raton, at the world's most luxurious movie theatre.

You gotta see it to believe how luxurious. Any place where you can take wine, beer or champers and sushi or burgers with you to your seat, is the place for me.

Methadras said...

I saw this stupid piece of crap today and about 45 minutes into it I got up and left and asked for my money back. The manager rolled his eyes at me and said that I was the 10th person that day to do it. Mr. Shamalamadingdong took the lame Gaiaist premise that the earth is a living, sentient being that views humanity as a parasite that it's been trying to get rid of for the last epoch and has failed until this rancid attempt of celluloid graced my retinas. It was almost a joke to watch the hypnosis of the zombies onscreen mimic that of the audience. I almost chuckled at the irony.

What burns my britches is how insidious environmentalism has become. Common sense has been asleep at the switch and then after I got home, I saw a commercial on TV showing Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson sitting on a sofa on a beach in front of an ocean proclaiming how their two sides of the political spectrum can get together to save mommy earth. God dammit.

Palladian said...

"The latter had Suzanne Pleshette, and that's enough for me."

Is it just me or was her character in "The Birds" supposed to be a lesbian?

TitusisinBoston said...


I wanted to share with you what happened to me tonight.

I was at Boston Pride and I went on a Boat Cruise. I met a guy in a wheel chair. This is a true story. We started talking and had a good conversation. He was very handsome. I asked him if he would mind telling me how he happened to get into the wheel chair. He told me that he was in the marines from 84-2006. He told me that he was in Baghdad in 2006 and his "group"-I don't know what they are called, were ambushed by Taliban. He was shot and he is now a parapalegic from the waiste down. Granted, he could of been bull shitting me but I believed him.

We had a fascinating conversation which basically entailed me asking him tons of questions and him answering.

So this is what he told me. Again, he could of been totally bullshitting me. I asked his views on Bush. He told me he thought he was very courageous but that he is a fool. He told me that things are going well in Iraq but that we will be out in 6 months. I told him I didn't believe him but he told me the decision has already been made. He told me he did a line of coke and some hash and was feeling good. He also had a porno mag inside the sleave of his wheelchair-it was straight porno which I thought was kind of weird. He receives 95% of his pay and works 5 hours a week as a curb inspector. I didn't know what that was. He told me that he inspects curbs to make sure they are wheel chair accesible. He was born and raised in Cambridge, Mass. I asked if he wanted to share a cab. We did. He asked if he could come to my place. I told him no because it was a corporate apartment and I can't have guests. The real reason was because I hate drugs and I didn't want him to be doing any drugs in the apartment. Also, the rare clumbers would of had a fit. It was a fascinating conversation. He had scars on his neck and arms. Again, I don't know if he was BS'ing me but I found the entire evening fascinating.

Thought I would share with you.

Was he pulling my leg?

TitusisinBoston said...

By the way I would do M Knight.

Unknown said...

Of course, it's bad. It's Shyamalan, the one-hit wonder kid. Every movie he's made since the Sixth Sense has been worse than the previous one. Lady in the Water is good for a few laughs. It's one big long masturbation fantasy, where Shyamalan plays the misunderstood genius whose ideas will change the world.

Fen said...

Noted. Like Freeman, we'll put this film in our MST3K stack.

TitusisinBeantown said...

Remarkable was a good movie-his second movie.

He wants to be Alfred Hitchock but he has along way to go.

I would still suck his uncut Indian hog.

Ann Althouse said...

Attacked by the Taliban in Baghdad?

I'll guess bullshitting. By you.

I agree with Theo that we need to distinguish the plant movies from the animal movies. "Day of the Triffids" was a good science fiction book before it was a movie. Other plant movies (in addition to "The Little Shop of Horrors," already mentioned) are "The Thing" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The 70s version of Body Snatchers very much emphasizes the plants. Check out the first scene with kids marveling at the amazing new flowers.

JSF said...

After the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the next time the plot "Plants attacking humans" came into play was when I caught Tom Baker in Doctor Who in the 6-parter, Seeds of Doom.

Now that was freaky!

KCFleming said...

I always thought Al Gore was an example of plants wreaking revenge on humans.

* makes us do crazy things to hurt ourselves (GW mitigation)
* kudzus himself into every conceivable arena
* wooden speaker
* becomes increasingly bloated as his power increases (Feed me, Seymour.)

I rest my case.

PatCA said...

There's not a mean spirited theme, or political or environmental message within 10 miles of Sex/City. IOW, it's an absolute delight!

Have fun - and a Cosmopolitan afterwards.

somefeller said...

Best "so bad, it's good" movie experience - seeing "Pet Sematary" with a bunch of friends from high school. The whole theater was laughing hysterically throughout the whole move, particularly the scene were the little boy (who was, of course, later resurrected via the Pet Sematary, with unfortunate results) was run over by a truck, and if memory serves the truck driver was listening to the Ramones at the time of impact ( which reminds me of this story). It's possible I remember this movie as being particularly funny because we smuggled in about a case of beer in various jacket pockets into the theater and my judgment was thus impaired, but that was a great "so bad, it's good" experience. I doubt this movie can measure up to that.

knox said...

In these days, where we're told CONSTANTLY that every little breeze is a harbinger of the end of the world, it's pretty satisfying that this movie is laughably absurd. How appropriate.

Anyway, I like "Unbreakable" quite a lot, and even "Signs," right up until the end, where it's just beyond stupid. I also really like Joaquin Phoenix in it, and I remember reading that Mark Ruffalo was originally chosen to play that part, but had to back out for some reason.

amba said...

You're forgetting "The Last Wave." (My apologies if someone mentioned it in the second half of the comments.)

amba said...

Oh, and, there's also a wasp that injects something into a spider that takes over its little mind and forces the spider to weave a deformed web that serves as shelter for the wasp's larvae or pupae.

titusistiredverytired said...

Sorry, I meant to say he was attacked by Al Quaida.

He also told me the Iraqi people are very nice.

He also said "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is BS-no one in the military cares.

Freeman Hunt said...

Please advise.

That's never explained. In fact, I couldn't tell if the plants were pissed about carbon footprints or about pollution or about people cutting them down. They're just pissed--murderously pissed.

blake said...


"The Savage Bees" was, I believe, a made-for-TV movie designed as a knock-off of Irwin Allen's "The Swarm". (The TV version pre-dates the cinema version by considerable distance, but of course, that's how it used to work. The movie studios would announce some project and one to three similar TV movies and a Roger Corman knock-off would immediately go into production, often beating the theatrical release.)

The TV version is Shakespeare compared to the filmed Bee flick, even though the Allen movie has Michael Caine, Henry Fonda, and a not well looking Fred MacMurray. Plus, if memory serves, a Volkswagen that's central to the plot. It's not so much a "nature gone mad" movie, though, but a disaster movie with a horror theme.

Amba's right: Weir's Last Wave deserves a mention (hey, coincidentally also featuring Richard Chamberlain, who was in The Swarm).

There's an '80s BBC version of "Triffid" which is quite excellent. The book author (John Wyndham) also wrote..."The Norwich Cuckoo"?...whatever it was that was the basis for the chilling Children/Village of the Damned.

Then there's the campy Pirahna which I think has a more "man vs. nature" feel than, say, Jaws, which is "man vs. shark"--more intimate, in other words.

Have we missed any? The Nest, about cockroaches, Blood Beach about...well, giant sand crabs, I guess, Humanoids from the Deep (mutant fish need women!) and on and on. There haven't been as many snake movies as one might expect--I suspect they're difficult to wrangle--but of course giant ants and spiders abound.

At some point, you realize you're dealing with a horror trope and nothing very profound whatsoever.

There was a recent horror flick that's a propos to this conversation, but if you click through to my review, you'll get spoiled, and at the time I wrote the review, I felt that was good enough reason not to mention it.

So, clicker beware and all that.

blake said...

Other random notes:

Freeman: Yes, the difference between "The Birds" and this new one is that "The Birds" doesn't suck. The point, though, is that it isn't really the premise's fault.

Beth: Yes, Suzanne Pleshette was teh hawt. I still can't believe Disney put her in movies. (She's the one who insisted on kissing her co-star at the end, which Walt was sure would be the end of family values....)

Palladian: If she was supposed to be a lesbian, it would've had to have been because Roddy Rod put her off men, since it's quite clear she was pining for him, and views Tippi as both competition and perhaps fellow traveler. I've also heard that Veronica Cartwright (who grew up to be in Alien, Witches of Eastwich, and bunches of other stuff) is Taylor's love-child, but Jessica Tandy is old enough and not too old to have been mother to both.

somefeller: "Pet Sematary" isn't just bad, it's mean. A lot of what Stephen King seems to consider horror is just plain meanness.

Theo: "Little Shop of Horrors" was not Nicholson's first role, though I think it was his first with Corman.

Finally: It cracks me up that people are still planning to go see this after what's been said here, with expectations other than hilarity. But, good luck. Shyamalan seems to be the kind of director that people hate except for two movies, the first one being "The Sixth Sense", and the second one TBD.

Anonymous said...

I was trying to figure out if that was what the director/writer getting at, surely he's not righting a movie where humans are bad for the planet, I mean the guy used to live down the street from me but just sold his house for 8 million dollars to move into a 25 million dollar house. Is he that big of a hypocryt?