Monday, July 7, 2008

Criminal Profiling Topic of the Day: The Happening is Good Horror if not a Good Movie

I really loved The Sixth Sense. I liked the suspense and the Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy in the plot and I thought it was very clever (and, no, I didn't figure out the twist, embarrassing though that might be for a profiler). I missed the next couple of M. Night Shyamalan films and then I went to see Lady in the Water. I sat in the movie theatre with my mouth hanging open (from disbelief), my eyes rolled until they hurt, and when the movie ended, I actually stood up and shouted, "Night! You've lost your mind!" Unquestionable, Lady in the Water was the worst film I have ever seen. True, I didn't walk out like I have other crappy films, but this was only because I couldn't believe the film could continue to be so bad and so I stayed just to see how awful it was actually going to get. It surpassed my wildest imaginings!

I will say, though, that I recommend the film for gatherings with friends - alcohol required - for mocking and popcorn flicking. With this in mind, I actually went to see Shyamalan's new movie, The Happening, in spite of all the bad reviews.

Though The Happening isn't a good film, I rather expected more people in the theatre would commit suicide watching the movie than died on screen. However, I actually found, to my surprise, the movie was actually quite suspenseful and it kept my interest. To be sure, I had to giggle and snicker now and again because the conversations between people were inane and there are just many really stupid moments that require viewers to question that Night should get a little help (no, a lot of help) with plot issues and presentation.

But, I found the horror aspect of the film actually admirable. Many people know I am strongly anti gore and slasher films which I consider to be sadistic, misogynist, and damaging to society. Because of the stance I take on this, some think that I am opposed to any film that includes violence or scary stuff. This is not true. While I am an advocate of clean, good fun, family films which I think should be the bulk of our fare, I do enjoy some art films and clever detective, adventure, mystery, and horror films.

The horror films I support are those that creep you out without making the bad stuff something to drool over, something to live vicariously through, and something that makes one laugh at the victims. One of my favorite creepy films of all time is The Haunting of Hill House, an old black and white film that justs gets to you with its spookiness. The Haunting had this quality.
For those of you not familiar with the plot (spoiler ahead), something like global warming is causing the trees to attack people by releasing some chemical into the air which causes them to commit suicide(snickering here is allowed as, yes, this is a very dumb plot). But, what makes this film a good horror film is the freakiness of whole bunches of people just suddenly stopping in the middle of their mundane activities and killing themselves off. The thought of this happening makes one skin crawl.

The methods which the people use to do themselves in also include some very simple but interesting ways of committing suicide. I think the most riveting part of the film is when the construction workers are chatting and suddenly one of their coworkers slams onto the ground beside them. They are horrified and while trying to tend to him, another coworker slams into the ground behind them, and then another and another. Then they look up and they see all of their friends just stepping off the top of the building they are working on. Great scene and totally creeped me out!

Then other people kill themselves in unsettling ways as well, like suddenly laying down in front of a mower or driving their family straight into a tree. A traffic cop suddenly stops what he is doing and pulls out his gun and shoots himself in the head. He drops to the ground. Then, the man in the car the cop had just been chatting with, gets out, walks over to the cop and picks up the gun from beside the body and kills himself as well. Then, a woman in high heels steps of the sidewalk, picks up the gun again and she drops to the ground. Later on we see the lawnmowers of a road crew abandoned at the side of the road and all the workers are hanging from the trees like big pieces of fruit.

Creepy! Creepy! Creepy! The protagonists attempt to outrun the areas which are being hit and everyone they meet or run with drop like flies.It made me rather tense and I was holding my breath as I hope they would make it, that the people with them would make it, that anyone would make it. It was good, good horror. The point of the film was to put you on the edge of your seat with concepts, not with overly graphic and overlong scenes of torture, dismemberment, and death. Shyamalan actually often moved the camera quickly away as soon as the death takes place and only a quick glance at the damage is seen. I have to really respect that. I got the point without being repulsed, sickened, or becoming some sort of sicko enjoying watching people die.

So, Night, thank you for proving horror films can be done decently, if not terribly well. I really appreciate it.

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown


Preraphazon said...

The Haunting of Hill House book probably has my favorite first paragraph of all time. "Whatever walks there walks alone." So creepy in so few words.

You know, I'm embarassed to say I was the only person I know who sort of like Lady in the Water. I liked the way she looked as much as anything, kind of Rackham Siren-ish.

I liked the Sixth Sense, but I found the kid hard to look at. I know that's awful, but it's true, and I guess he was supposed to look creepy -- and he did.

Pat Brown said...

What were you smoking? ::laughs:: A boy who reads the future from cereal boxes, scrunt dogs with grass on their bags, a girl who lives in the drain of the swimming pool, and a big eagle that is going to swoop down and take her away? What has NIGHT been smoking! But, the one very good thing about you liking the movie is this means, just like there is someone for everyone, there is some reader for every author and I am relieved about that!

The Hill House had wall that thumped and that girl held hands in the dark with the other girl until she woke up and realized the other girl wasn't any where near her ::oooh, shudder::

Preraphazon said...

I eat up horror, as long as it isn't slashy stuff. I like the gothic horror, old-school stuff.

I did think the "scary" lawn animals in Lady of the Drain were stupid, but I liked some of the visuals enough to enjoy the movie. Never let a plot spoil your movie-going enjoyment!

Ronni said...

I am a huge fan of "The Haunting of Hill House," and don't think either movie did it justice. However, the black and wite one from 1963 (I think) was much better than the later one.

That's the kind of horror I like. I can't stand grossness.

GMC said...

I think you're a little too harsh or cautious on The Happening, declaring it to be a good Horror, if not really something you'd call a good movie.

To myself, who am not a real horror fan, this is by good distances one of the more successful movies of the last 10 years or so. (I have to say, I find there are relatively very, very few of these, and so, when I see one that is undeservedly damned somewhat by faint praise, I must reply, I feel.)

The Happening is a classic modern example of the old B Movie context, reminiscent of a B&W Day of the Triffids and so on. The story is excellent, and like a lot of these science fiction kind of realm stories, they talk in ways of what is relevant but hard for people to talk of except in such metaphors.

The whole world is going mad and killing itself? This is the most understandable thing I can think of in today's society. Brilliantly, the film leaves the questions of why or what is making the happening happen completely out of the picture (until very near the very end). So until then, we are left with the gruesome reality, which is excellent for the effect it can have on the viewer, just to see the true horror of what it may mean in the whole world going mad and tearing themselves apart. And we are left, brilliantly, to ourselves to wonder, in metaphorical terms what this could be in our society. It's left open. Even when an explanation is given, it's not so cut and dried, perhaps, when things may begin happening again.

Then at the end, we do see how this is NOT so science fiction after all - how it may happen tommorrow. (I might add, this can also bring home how the other possibilities can also not be far fetched, possibilities not resting on scientific explanations, or easily acceptable subjects).

OK, so the script is too sparse, lacking a few elements of thought and interest, and Mark Wahlberg acting, though largely good or better, falls a little flat. He is coping with a minimalistic script about an immense occurence, so it's hard.

Some small failings, aside, I wonder if you can come to appreciate the value of this film more. There's a lot to be said about the potential of a science fiction film and the old B movie context, and The Happening grasps that very well. It always had the potential to speak volumes about our society in ways that seem just unable to be achieved otherwise.