The Happening was a project that certainly got off on the wrong foot. It was originally titled The Green Effect, until word got out that the script was terrible and no major studios wanted to finance this new effort from Shyamalan; in others words, it seemed that Lady in the Water had left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Things began to turn around, once Shyamalan announced he was re-working the script – based on various studios’ feedback – and he later retitled the project The Happening. When the international teaser trailer for the film (see below) was released, it looked like a return to dark and unsettling form for the Sixth Sense director.
The setup was intriguing and early reports were that the film would be a graphic, R-Rated feature in the vein of The Exorcist, with a spooky premise that could’ve been lifted right from a Stephen King best-selling horror novel. What could possibly go wrong? (Knock on wood.)
The Happening does harken back to old-fashioned sci-fi B-movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day of the Triffids, but the script takes a much too kitschy approach. That is easiest to observe in the movie’s (occasionally) flat-out laughable dialogue and ineffective melodramatic plot developments.
Similarly, as a storyteller, Shyamalan hadn’t completely learned his lesson from Lady in the Water; as a result, the film is an uneven balance of heavy-handed moralizing and compelling – but, once again, strictly allegorical – ideas (presented in an eco-horror/thriller context).
So, what’s the final result? The Happening is a movie that practically begs to be viewed with a Rifftrax commentary (note: the following includes some NSFW language):
Surprisingly, The Happening was not a financial bomb. It ended up grossing over $163 million worldwide on a $48 million budget and demonstrated that Shyamalan’s films could still do decent business at the box office – despite being ripped apart by critics.
The Last Airbender
There was a lot of speculation going on prior to the release of this Shyamalan’s film, which was also his first venture into big-budget blockbuster territory, The Last Airbender. Sadly, the Nickelodeon cartoon-inspired flick is anything but a return to quality for Shyamalan. (For an in-depth look at the film, you should read Screen Rant‘s official Last Airbender review.)
The short version? Last Airbender has all the same problems as the Shyamalan movies that came before it – that includes questionable screenwriting choices, soapbox philosophical preaching, and so on – but they’re compound by the filmmaker’s lack of experience at constructing well-executed action sequences and big-budget set pieces.
Our Kofi Outlaw’s predictions that Last Airbender could be the next Transformers 2 turned out to be partly correct, as Shyamalan’s film earned a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – while more-than doubling its $150 million budget worlwide – but a sequel has yet to materialize (and, at this point, is unlikely to in the near future).
Devil/ After Earth
Shymalan did not write the script for Devil – nor did he serve as the director – but the Agatha Christie-style single-setting horror-thriller was based on his original story (and he was a producer on the film). The final result was a flawed, but overall solid and creepy tale that has a strong moral core and emotionally-rich purpose behind the genre storytelling. (Read Screen Rant‘s official Devil review, for a more-detailed analysis of the film.)
The decent final result with Devil suggests that Shyamalan is a storyteller who has a distinct voice that is (still) worth listening to. He seems better off allowing other people to realize his ideas in cinematic form. (That’s not meant to belittle Shyamalan’s talent – it’s just a recommendation that he focus on his strengths as a creative person.)
Frankly, the newly-released After Earth – which Shyamalan co-wrote and directed – does little to nothing to counter the claim that he has a tendency to be his own worst enemy.
In Screen Rant‘s official After Earth review, our Ben Kendrick talks about how the father-son sci-fi survival drama has its fair share of emotionally-potent moments and shows potential for being a far more powerful allegorical work; yet, in the end, the movie is constantly being up-ended by Shyamalan’s (there’s no point in sugar-coating it at this stage) big-budget directorial incompetence.
Is Shyamalan doomed to be known as a hack director the rest of his days? He certainly doesn’t have to be, but it would require him to continue to show humility and a willingness to share his toys with others (so to speak).
It was recommended by our editors – on a recent episode of the Screen Rant Underground Podcast – that Shyamalan try his hand at something even more collaborative (for his next project). Fortunately, that’s exactly what he’s doing, by teaming with several other writers on the limited television series Wayward Pines.
On that note: do you think there’s any chance that Shyamalan will regain his once-strong artistic reputation in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!
After Earth is now playing in U.S. theaters.