It has gone on long enough. Many folks throughout the nation love to bag on writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, and it’s about time for someone to finally come to his defense.
Just about everyone from the “film elite” to the average armchair movie critic routinely and almost universally pans his efforts, except for maybe the successful The Sixth Sense. Specifically, the films that seem to draw the most ire are his latest two, Lady in the Water and The Happening. So, for the sake of time, they’ll be the focus here. Both were even nominated for numerous Razzies (with Lady in the Water winning a few), annually awarded to the worst in film. Defending such works will undoubtedly be unpopular, but it needs to be done.
One can’t escape the feeling that most critics are pretentious, jaded faultfinders, so maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a lot of them can’t or won’t open their minds or hearts to the notion that Lady in the Water is a solid, self-sustaining fantasy film. Obviously, any movie about a makeshift mermaid living in a motel pool who needs to get back to her otherworldly home isn’t steeped in reality, but there will always be people that just don’t understand that. They will look at a sequence on film that’s unrealistic and impossible, even for a “fantasy” film, and dismiss it as nonsense. This is either because they’ve never seen anything like it before, or they can’t allow themselves to relax and let the fresh, novel narrative unfold. After all, Shyamalan’s fable is some of the most original storytelling to come along in years. There’s nothing else similar to it. Still, even that’s not enough for some. Too many people seem to need their entertainment spoon fed to them, therefore, anything that isn’t clearly laid out or that doesn’t fit a mold can’t possibly be good. Furthermore, Paul Giamatti is great as the downtrodden motel superintendent, whose plight is the main crux of the film, which is something that’s bewilderingly lost on many. It’s even more hilarious that many detractors scoff at the character of an actual film critic. That should be proof in itself that Shyamalan is on to something.
It’s also worth mentioning that people have either forgotten, or simply don’t know what a parable is. The Happening is just such a tale, and Shyamalan pulls it off quite successfully. It concerns a mysterious toxin in the air spreading throughout the Northeast U.S. that causes people to kill themselves. A couple (Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel) experiencing problems then flees the city, among many other citizens, looking for a safe haven. Eventually, a theory is proffered that the environment (plants, trees, etc.) is rising up to overthrow man. The problem, for many folks, is that the explanation for the epidemic is never fully delivered. However, without giving anything away, if one uses their brain just a little bit, everything is made clear. There’s a point in the film where Wahlberg and Deschanel discuss their issues. This indirectly leads to the resolution of the movie. Viewers can then connect the dots as to the reason for the mass suicides. It may sound vague and cryptic, but that’s kind of the point. Those who describe The Happening as empty and meaningless suffer from the story sailing over their heads. Shyamalan does a deft job creating a chilling atmosphere in the dead of day that includes characters trying to escape an intangible killer without simultaneously beating the audience over the head with the premise. Critics who bash the film as meandering are maybe part of the reason people started dropping dead in Shyamalan’s allegory in the first place. Maybe they should get off his back and go smell the daisies.