Two Things

Barrel Scrapings

Kim Newman joins the Guardian’s film blog with a less-than-convincing defence of M Night Shyamalan’s latest offering, The Happening. As a riposte to the film’s poor takings and overwhelmingly bad press, the piece doesn’t start too well.

It’s an effective, mid-ranking genre picture. Mark Wahlberg isn’t the strongest leading man, but the rest of the cast are fine, and its puzzled, panicky characters act in a more or less credible manner.

Mid-ranking. Fine. More or less credible. Newman is already kicking the feet from under his own argument. It goes on,

His scripts are sometimes mawkish, sometimes pretentious,

And sometimes they’re just aggravatingly bad. The ending of Signs springs to mind as inexcusably lazy and contrived. Humanoid aliens descend on a blue planet whose surface is covered in water and whose atmosphere contains large amounts of water, only for those aliens to be revealed, abruptly and for no clear reason, as being laid low by… a glass of water. And this improbable lack of alien foresight restores the protagonist’s faith in a merciful deity. Truly, the Lord moves in bewildering ways.

He’s an earnest film-maker whose weird streak of humour doesn’t always work - a speech delivered by Wahlberg to a plastic plant just dies on screen - and he comes across personally as privileged, superior and faintly creepy (traits he’s well aware of, since he has used them in his own “significant” cameo appearances in film).

Having listed a dozen or so reasons to dislike Shyamalan’s recent efforts, Newman delivers the final, perhaps inevitable, defence:

Can it be a kind of racism that the Indian-born, Philadelphia-raised auteur is hammered for his apparent character (or funny name) rather more than, say, Quentin Tarantino or Spike Lee?

Ah. That’s obviously why The Sixth Sense was widely acclaimed and enormously successful and yet The Happening was not. It’s racism, see? And his funny name. Clearly, these are the things that govern the viewing decisions of a mainstream movie audience.