The Happening

The Happening

"See, ma'am, I'm a teacher."

So, you've decided to make a "fun B movie," perhaps harking back to 1950s melodramas like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or 1970s enviro-creepfests like Soylent Green. You are struck with the idea of nature turning on mankind after too many years of abuse. So far, so good. But how to go about bringing your vision to life? Well, if your name is M. Night Shyamalan and you're making The Happening, you act as follows:

(1) Write your own screenplay. This is most important because, as you so graciously informed mankind in Lady in the Water, your pen bleeds words that will one day change the world. Through their woodenness, their leaden otherworldliness, they occupy an uncharted space outside both intentional, good-natured camp and real world dialogue. It is crucial to your film's viability that you not let a talented, or even competent, scribe fashion suitable, non-cringe-inducing sentences for your actors. This would dilute your vision.

(2) Use a recently developed technique known as FORESHADOWING. But make sure that the audience is not left with any doubts. Tell them quickly, within, oh, 25 minutes, the source of the problem. And lest they forget, have your cast members reiterate this point repeatedly—preferably in ill-timed cutaways to close-ups where they might say something so wildly out of place that no sentient being could possibly fail to comprehend its import. Reaction shots of nature will also forcefully drive home your point.

(3) As you are creating a horror/sci-fi movie, you will also need to develop some tension and thrills. These should be front-loaded in the film's first 10 minutes—well-crafted, involving early scenes will sustain the audience for the epic's remaining 80 minutes while nothing happens. Should you find things beginning to lag, have your cast run from the wind. Nothing spells "F-E-A-R" like menacing shots of fields of rippling grass.

(4) Cast Mark Wahlberg.

(5) Give Mr. Wahlberg exactly two (2) things to do. First, have him maintain, for the film's entirety, a perplexed look hovering between confusion and constipation. Second, have him speak his lines in a slightly-higher-than-normal voice, enunciated as though he is sounding them out phonetically. The impact of this will be enhanced by having crafted lines for him that no human being ever has spoken, or ever will speak, with anything approaching a straight face.

(6) To ensure that the full force of Mr. Wahlberg's performance and your lovingly sculpted words will bury the audience like so many weakly thrown shotputs, give the rest of your cast nothing to do. Absolutely nothing. Should you feel that these side players appear too flat, give them a recognizable attachment to real life, such as a daughter, or a marital tiff, or a garden—this is called "characterization," raising your cast from half-dimensional to one-dimensional, and will forge a bond with the audience.

(7) Now that you have your elements in place, you are ready to hose down the audience with your MESSAGE. This MESSAGE should be trite and simplistic. It should also be something on which there is widespread agreement. Once you have finished blowing your MESSAGE's wad (this should take about 90 minutes), you have completed your film. Congratulations!

Honestly, the idea of nature revolting against mankind after years of neglect isn't a half-bad idea for a movie. But it can't be played straight. You don't have a flock of angry birds or a killer shark to embody the threat. Seriously, your villain is the wind. You gotta up the cheese factor a little bit to make this work.

And I don't mean to rag too much on Mr. Wahlberg. He can be perfectly suitable in the right film. But he has a natural flatness and earnestness that belongs nowhere near this movie. Marky Mark cannot sell "campy good time," which is exactly what this film needs. Also, he is not afraid of grass. Jason Schwartzman: afraid of grass. Michael Cera: afraid of (and probably allergic to) grass. Edward Norton: could be talked into being afraid of grass. Mark Wahlberg: just clomps blithely over grass, probably fails to distinguish it from other flooring.

As for M. Night's gossamer verbiage, some samples:
- "Filbert? Does anybody know where that is? Why are you giving me one useless piece of information at a time? What's going on? Hey, why would you just stop? You can't just leave us here!" - Not every thought needs expression, M. Night. Also, you were raised in Philadelphia—why does your dialogue sound like subtitles to a Polish film?
- "I think I know what's causing this." "You do?" "It's the plants. They can release chemicals." - Well, that's your movie, folks. Thanks for your $12. Wait, what? There's still over an hour left? <Audience digs keys into wrists.>
- "Just keep watching out the window with the tree, baby, someone will come and get you soon." "Tell her, tell her not to go near the window with the tree, just tell her!" "Baby, don't go near the window with the tree!" - Ok, first of all, "the window with the tree"? Way to work in the horticulture organically, M. Night. That's exactly how a native English speaker would phrase it. And when a stranger yells at you about the danger of a tree-facing window, do you listen? No. That person is a derelict, not a soothsayer. Ignore him. <Audience spontaneously combusts.>
- "Something in this field could be releasing the chemical into the air when there's too many of us together. Let's just stay ahead of the wind!" - Ahead of the wind? You're a science teacher, and you're telling us to stay ahead of the wind? As in, where, outer space? <Audience commits mass suicide.>

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