The Fall of Night

June 13, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

It's Friday the 13th, and Jason isn't in sight. That's not to say Hollywood has given up on one of America's most venerable and bloody cinematic serial killers but, at least for this year, he won't be slashing his way through a crowd of nubile teenage girls. Instead, on this Friday the 13th, we have another horror story to consider. But first, a word about a resurrection. The movie that will triumph as this week's Box Office Champion is also my Pick of the Week. The Incredible Hulk gives Hulk fans what they wanted but didn't get when Ang Lee brought the franchise to the screen in 2003. It's not clear how the honchos at Marvel initially felt about Lee's vision, but any enthusiasm they might have had for the project waned in the face of fan backlash.

Hulk was a bold, visionary way to look at an iconic comic book character. Unfortunately, it did not fall within the parameters of what Hulk fans wanted. That didn't make it a bad movie, but it caused many aficionados to feel betrayed. I can understand that. This new Incredible Hulk is designed to salve old wounds and re-invent the title character as one of the cornerstones of the new Marvel universe. Along with Iron Man and Captain America, he will form a pillar. I have been asked which of the two Hulk films I prefer. My answer may sound evasive, but it is genuine. I like them both in different ways - this one for its high-intensity action; the earlier one for its thoughtfulness and intelligence. I gave Hulk ***1/2 stars and gave The Incredible Hulk ***. That should answer the question for those who want something concrete.

Watching The Happening, I experienced a deep sense of sadness. This was one of the summer movies I had been looking forward to, but it's not good on any level, no matter how desperately its supporters try to prop it up. I have read the argument that those who dismiss the film as "empty" are missing the point, and that it's designed as a thoughtful piece. The problem is, regardless of how it's designed, it is horribly executed. I can appreciate a movie that's about characters facing fear and death and the unknown in the midst of a crisis where there are no answers. But M. Night Shyamalan has failed to tell this story competently. The actors appear uncomfortable, the direction is sloppy, and the screenplay is unforgivably bad.

Shyamalan, of course, exploded into the public's awareness with The Sixth Sense, a movie about which I have had more arguments than I would care to remember. To me, it's as empty a production as you're likely to find. It has one thing going for it - the twist - and if you're unlucky enough to figure it out early during your first viewing, the experience of watching the movie loses a lot of its luster. I disliked The Sixth Sense when I first saw it and I haven't moderated my opinion since then. Lest I be labeled as a "Shyamalan hater," it should be noted that I liked Unbreakable, Signs, and even The Village (a movie that was fairly widely trashed). But I could not defend The Lady in the Water nor can I defend The Happening.

The discouraging thing about The Happening is that it looks like it's the product of someone who doesn't know what he's doing. This is not a brave, maverick story where elements don't gel. This is an embarrassment where the actors are wooden, the camera work is pedestrian, the atmosphere is absent, and the dialogue is laughable. The Happening is flawed on many levels and, in conjunction with The Lady in the Water causes me to wonder whether Shyamalan has given all he has to give. Contrary to what one critic wrote, his career is not over, but it will be interesting to see where it goes. Certainly, it's hard to imagine this movie making much money this weekend. Word-of-mouth will be horrible. This is a film where the public at large will agree with the majority of critics, and The Happening will take its place along Speed Racer among the biggest wrecks of 2008's summer season.