Preview: THE HAPPENING: Filmmaking On The Edge Of The Goldilocks Zone

Members at different levels of my Patreon get access to exclusive content. Today I published a lengthy piece on The Happening and M. Night Shyamalan, available only to subscribers at the $10 and above level. Here is a small preview of the piece; to read the rest, subscribe at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

The Goldilocks Zone is the belt around a star where liquid water is possible. Too close to the star and liquid water doesn’t stand a chance in the heat; too far and it’s frozen. Liquid water is what we look for when we’re searching for life in the galaxy, as we know it’s fundamental to life (as we know it) on Earth. 

We’re living on the one planet that’s lucky enough to be in that zone for our star, Sol. Venus maybe once was, when Sol was dimmer, but over time the star heated up and Venus’ water boiled away. Today the surface of Venus is around 880 degrees Fahrenheit (partially, to be fair, because its thick atmosphere creates an intense Greenhouse Effect)*. Mars, on the other side of Earth, is just on the fringe of the habitable zone; perhaps it once had liquid water, but today that water is all frozen, as the planet’s surface tends to clock in around -80 Fahrenheit. 

Too hot. Too cold. Earth, just right. It’s an amazing, almost miraculous balancing act, and it’s unclear how many planets in the galaxy hit this mark. How many worlds out there are just too far away, or just too close, and never had a chance. 

The Goldilocks Zone is what I think about when I watch a movie like The Happening, M. Night Shymalan’s 2008 thriller that is one of the most baffling films ever made. This is a movie that exists right at the edge of the filmmaking Goldilocks Zone, that is almost close enough to be a real movie but that is, on a very fundamental level, absolutely awful. Albeit it in an incredibly entertaining way. 

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The Grotesque Miracle Of CATS

That Sharknado is a hit and Cats is a flop is a true indicator of how misaligned our cultural priorities are. The fake bad movie is big business, while the real bad movie – the earnestly bad movie – has become a punchline. Cats deserves more.

(Before we go any farther, yes, I am aware success is measured quite differently for a SyFy Original versus big budget Oscar bait. I really just need you guys to roll with my rhetoric a little bit this year.)

The legend of Cats preceded it, and all of my friends saw the movie and returned almost hyperventilating with laughter. Ironic Cats stuff started with the release of the first trailer but exploded after the first screening. More people seem to be tweeting and memeing about Cats than are seeing it, though, and so Cats has become something that people want to talk about and laugh about but not necessarily see. 

I have seen it and I will tell you this: I am glad I did. And while it is a terrible, awful, miserable movie it is, in many ways, preferable to some of the perfectly fine big budget movies I saw this year. I will take the sheer insanity of Cats over the inanity of a Hobbs and Shaw, for instance. Hell, I’m more likely to see Cats in theaters again before I see Rise of Skywalker in theaters again. 

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GLASS Is The Worst Kind of Bad M Night Movie – The Boring Kind

That M Night Shyamalan should make a bad movie is no surprise. He has made plenty of them. But that he should make a bad movie this stultifying, this tedious, this uninteresting – that’s the surprise. Shyamalan has, over the course of his career, veered from being a budding master of the thriller, a competent exploitation filmmaker and, most excitingly with his bad movies, an outsider artist. But he has rarely been a bore*. Sadly, he is now a bore.

Shyamalan’s bad films have, before Glass, been transcendently bad; they’re like transmissions from an alien mind, barely understandable glimpses into a bizarre universe where logic and meaning are lost. They’re thrilling; to sit through The Happening or Lady in the Water is to be changed on a fundamental level. To watch a critic devoured alive, or to hear a guy give a monologue about hot dogs in the middle of the apocalypse are the kinds of cinematic moments for which I live – incongruous bits of madness that seem like good ideas to one man and one man only. To have the privilege of seeing inside the strangest parts of Shyamalan’s psyche is truly a joy, and I don’t mean this in some kind of ironic, distanced way but rather in the same way that I get joy from watching weird exploitation films from the 70s. These are works of art where you are granted a look inside the weirdness of another person, the kinds of things most of us don’t share with each other. Truly exceptional outsider filmmakers don’t have the right filter; watching a Neil Breen movie, for instance, is glorious because you’re just getting this dude’s unabridged weirdness, and it’s very intimate and very inspiring. The Happening and Lady in the Water had that same frisson. I love those films, and again, not in an ironic way.

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