Steve G 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ahh, I get it now. Vulgar auteurism. It all makes sense.
I don't regard myself as a cinephile. I'm just a bloke who really likes films. I watch a lot of them and I wish I had enough time to watch more. I know what I like and I know that I'm pretty stubborn in what I will give a go and what I won't touch with someone else's. I write reviews about them by way of giving my creative juices somewhere to go, and then I go back to sitting around like the useless great arse that I am. So bear in mind that I'm writing this as someone who doesn't regard themselves as a thinker on the subject of cinema nor does he think that he has anything particularly original or insightful to write on the subject. I just like writing on the subject.
I was only vaguely aware of the phrase 'vulgar auteurism' after seeing it mentioned under an Adam Cook review a while back, probably of some awful Paul WS Anderson film. But it was only today when I actually paid any attention to it and started reading up on it.
I think the roots of its beginnings are interesting enough, especially to someone like myself who has enjoyed a lot of Tony Scott films, most notably. And certainly, I don't have anything against any 'movement' that seeks to gain greater appreciation for filmmakers that have perhaps not earned all that they deserve from critics and even audiences. And I'm not saying that because I'm bitter that they haven't included Brad Anderson in their little club.
However, any such movement that chooses to hitch its wagon to the likes of Walter Hill, John Carpenter and John McTiernan can fuck off. Especially when it forces them to mix company with the likes of Paul WS Anderson, Russell Mulcahy and indeed M. Night Shyamalan. The former three directed The Driver, The Thing and Die Hard between them. The latter three directed The Three Musketeers, Blue Ice and The Happening. Fuck that noise.
OK, I'm loading the argument in my favour. But unlike in a lot of essays I've read today from those championing the work of people I regard about as highly as something I might tread through my lounge on the bottom of my Adidas Sambas, I'm actually going to provide some balance. Of course, Anderson directed Event Horizon, Mulcahy did Razorback and Shyamalan did The Sixth Sense, all fine films. They've all done some decent things. Then again, John O'Shea once nutmegged Luis Figo.
It just baffles me this, even more so in a season of films that has seen me take in a lot of the kind of films that vulgar auteurism is supposed to shine a more analytical eye on. Let's take Tony Scott, for instance. Unstoppable is mindless nonsense.
It's about a runaway train that, remarkably, stops. That's it.
And I really enjoyed it. Because sometimes a mindless piece of artless entertainment just sticks it all together well enough for it to appeal to me.
I do get the impression that a lot of people in the vulgar auteurism movement are of a similar mindset to me. We probably have a lot in common. It also seems to me, however, a lot of those people seem to believe that if they like a film that is critically dumped on and likely to get them laughed at by some people on film critic communities such as Mubi, Letterboxd, IMDb and many others that they have to find a deeper meaning to their enjoyment of said films. Knackers! If you love Missing In Action 3 then that's fine.
Not all people, I would point out. I know that many people genuinely do think that they see something wondrously artistic in something like You Don't Mess With The Zohan or Highlander 2: The Quickening. Fair enough. I wouldn't want to sit next to them on the bus or anything, but fair enough. What I would also say, however, is that there's nothing wrong with just liking something that you know is probably a big piece of crap. Nothing at all. And there's nothing wrong with admitting as such.
The vulgar auteurism movement has potential that is almost completely misguided. Carpenter, Hill, McTiernan and even the likes of Joe Carnahan (he made Narc and The Grey!) don't need the help of a bunch of internet film nerds like me to get them extra recognition. They've done just fine on their own. They're also unquestionably better filmmakers than the likes of Anderson and Mulcahy in that they have all shown immense talent at numerous points in their careers rather than possessing absolutely none and occasionally fluking a really good sci-fi or horror film.
The focus is all wrong. The subjects are all wrong. A perfectly fine idea on paper that has been misappropriated and, subsequently, turned into a cinephilia bandwagon that has, admittedly, been clever enough to create no rod for its own back by shooting for the absolute worst that cinema can offer. I just completely disagree with where it's gone, what it stands for, and where it will end up. I think, in all honesty, it's complete bollocks.
Which brings me to The Happening. And there you were wondering what the hell this all had to do with the film I'm supposed to be reviewing. That's what they call an awesome segue. Well, I do anyway. One day someone from The Observer will find this review and reappraise that segue as Brechtian. You'll see.
I've seen some quite frankly mental theories about this film in my time, going right back to pre-Letterboxd days, some of which were genuinely passed off as serious. There's a whole pocket of people out there that genuinely believe The Happening was a film that was directed by M. Night Shyamalan as being deliberately this bad in an attempt to create the ultimate tribute to piss-poor filmmakers like Edward D. Wood Jr and was, in turn, an experiment to try and discover whether a 'so bad it's good' film can actually be deliberately manufactured and confound the movie critic community as a whole.
Because, of course, Shyamalan walked into the offices of 20th Century Fox and this happened:-
Shyamalan: Guys, I've got this absolutely bangin' idea for a new film!
Studio: Awesome! Does it have one of those amazing twists?
Shyamalan: Kinda. The twist is actually in the concept.
Studio: Oh aye?
Shyamalan: Yeah. It's fucking rad, guy.
Studio: Well, what is it Night! Don't keep us in suspense, homie!
Shyamalan: It's called The Happening, right?
Studio: Cool name, we like it. Mysterious. It's intriguing.
Shyamalan: And it's shit.
Studio: Come again?
Shyamalan: It's shit. I'm going to make this film, and it's going to be fucking awful. And nobody will be able to guess that it's brilliant BECAUSE it's shit.
Shyamalan: I know.
See, that didn't happen.
Shyamalan has tried to make an homage to 1950s sci-fi pictures but he's done this remarkable thing. He's directed it like someone who has never seen a single 1950s sci-fi film in his life. He just hasn't got it AT ALL. Of course the likes of Them!, It Came From Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers were all completely ridiculous. We know that just by looking at their concepts before even watching a minute of them.
The problem with The Happening is that Shyamalan clearly believes that his concept isn't even slightly ridiculous. And as such, the film starts to fall apart as soon as anything that is supposed to be interesting starts going down. Of course, this doesn't actually explain why actors like Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo especially suddenly seem to have completely forgotten how to act in a film. That bit I just don't understand.
It also doesn't explain the dialogue being some of the most ridiculously fucking stupid shit that I have ever heard in any film. In ANY film. I'm not just talking in comparison to big budget Hollywood blockbusters, I mean the shitty straight-to-video action films that I spent much of my childhood watching and, indeed, most of the films ever made by Brazzers. In a way, I can almost understand why people actually latched on to the theory above because there really is no other explanation for it, is there? It just absolutely beggars belief.
Of course, none of any of this actually matters because I'm just not one of those people that delights in these films that are supposed to be 'so bad they're good'. I just found myself irritated, aggravated and ultimately bored by the endless procession of staggering ineptitude that The Happening forced me to endure. I've tried this film once before but I didn't finish it but tonight I thought I'd stick this receptacle of rat shit out to the end to see if I could gain access to the bigger picture of a subject that had got on my tits today. It's charmless, stagnant, pathetically self-unaware arsewater.
To cut a long story short, I hate The Happening. You don't? That's fine. It really doesn't have to be any more complicated than that, you know.