Pounded by mostly negative reviews and the Los Angeles Times wondering if the film might set a Razzie record for the worst achievements in a year, M Night Shyamalan's thriller The Happening will have to wait for a week to sense its box office fate. It is not unusual for films, derided by critics, to make money but there are times when the critics and moviegoers agree -- like it happened with Shyamalan's last film Lady In The Water. The film sank worldwide grossing less than $80 million and also received a bucketful of nasty reviews.
Shyamalan, knighted by Newsweek magazine as the next Spielberg seven years ago, has never been a critics' favourite. Even his sensational hit The Sixth Sense was panned by major newspapers including The New York Times. But in recent years, the reviews have been getting more savage.
While The Washington Post complained that the new film lacks direction, USA Today declared: His last couple of movies --The Village and Lady In The Water -- have been particular disappointments, and The Happening continues the trend.
The New York Post headline screamed: M Night-mare. Another stupid flick from Shyamalan.
Other arresting headlines: What Just Happened? (New York Sun), Shyamalan's Lost Sense (Time).
Among the few to give the film a sort of welcome was San Francisco Chronicle which called it 'an entertaining movie, which is half the game, but it's not scary, which it should be. Neither is it something to be taken seriously, though it's intended to be.'
The problem with the 37-year-old writer-director the reviewer wrote is that 'he's being anxious with his talent. He's not being free and letting it expand but forcing it to compress.'
The reviewer Mick Le Salle suggested that Shyamalan should try to make a film based on other people's screenplay. 'Shyamalan needs that variety. He needs a chance to loosen up and pull from another side of his brain,' he wrote. 'And from now on, whenever he has the impulse to write another scene with people stuck in a room with bad things going on outside, he needs to let that be the alarm bell -- and turn off the computer and go for a long walk.'
The new Shyamalan thriller, which reportedly cost about $60 million, is the first big joint venture for India's UTV Motion Pictures with a Hollywood company, Fox Searchlight.
Gitesh Pandya writing for Box-office Guru.com predicts The Happening will gross $22 million over the weekend in North America while The Incredible Hulk could amass $53 million. if The Happening's collections were to drop by 50 percent in the subsequent weeks, it could end its run with a so-so $40 million. If it does similar business abroad, and its DVD version does well, the film could still turn a profit. But if it drops by 60 percent in the second week onwards, it is in deep trouble.
The Happening is also Shyamalan's first R rated film. 'Much will depend on how younger audiences -- who with Shyamalan's first R rating will be more challenged to gain entry -- react to scenes of mass suicide: Will they gasp or chuckle?,' wondered Hollywood Reporter, the influential trade publication.
The film was released the same day as the $150 million (some say it cost nearly $200 million) The Incredible Hulk. Though the anguished superman saga also got mixed reviews, many were glowing. Hulk Smashes, Happening Crashes, declared one headline.
Critics complained that The Happening defies logic, does not offer enough thrills and wastes the talent of such fine artists as Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. 'The ecological idea of Planet Earth striking back at humankind might bring a smile to Al Gore,' reasoned Hollywood Reporter. 'But in terms of cinematic intrigue and nail-biting tension, it's just not happening.'