Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's Not The Plants


So, I saw The Happening the other day – it had gotten such weird and conflicting reviews that I figured I had to see it for myself. Hey, The Village got terrible reviews, and I liked it anyway; unlike (apparently) most other people who saw the film and were pissed off because the "twist" was crap, I didn't mind because I thought the twist was obvious on purpose, it wasn't supposed to be a shocking twist. The twist wasn't the point of the film, it was just... never mind, I'm getting distracted and I don't really care anymore. Anyhow, The Happening was flawed in a lot of ways, but I thought that some aspects of it were really quite neat. I was thinking of writing something about it, but then I found the general thrust of my thoughts were already expressed wonderfully in here*:

"you've got to admire Shyamalan's amazing ability to whip out a perfectly-constructed horror/scifi plot without actually ever having any kind of monster or coherent threat. We get all the classic "scary monster" moments in this movie — people staring at stuff with horrified looks on their faces, distant screams, long tension-mounting shots in creepy houses — and yet at the moment when we expect to look into the face of The Big Bad there's literally nothing. No Cloverfield with its throbbing, toothy face, no disfigured bad guy with a bag of poison. Just beautiful fields of trees and grasses moving gently in the breeze.

There's a kind of true brilliance to The Happening at these moments. It's as if Shyamalan, a smart guy if nothing else, is trying to show us that at the heart of every monster movie there really lurks nothing at all. Just an empty field that you can fill with whatever terrifies you most."

That's the part of the film that I enjoyed the most; if you've got the time & money to spend on two hours of Shyamalan, the film is possibly worth it just for this aspect. It's wonderful, if you're willing to look for your cinematic satisfaction in some intriguing metafiction. Rather than in the fiction itself.

(Yes, I'm using the word "metafiction". Sometimes it just can't be helped).

--the Cinematic Thoapsl

*ps: the rest of the post containing the above quote is basically all about the film's (alleged) covert promotion of "Intelligent Design". I wasn't reminded about ID in particular when I was watching the film, but I was struck by the rather unscientific rhetoric of the science-teacher protagonist (Marky Mark) in his introductory scene, quote: "acts of nature we'll never understand". Interesting perspective, hmm, coming from a science teacher? Insert joke here about the failures of the US public education system.
On the other hand, of course all kinds of bullshit masquerades as "science" in movies. I usually hope it's either creative license for the sake of an easier story, or else that it's only the usual ignorance (ie: unfortunate, but not essentially malignant). It's certainly bad stuff. However, wilful misrepresentation by anti-scientific ideologues is a lot worse. Scary and sad.

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