In nine days’ time, M Night Shyamalan’s latest film behind the camera, The Happening, is being released at cinemas across the world. Starring Mark Wahlberg in the leading role, the film was once upon a time expected to be a real blockbuster contender for the summer. And it may still be.
It’s the tale of a school teacher, played by Wahlberg, who goes on the run from some sort of natural disaster that is threatening the planet. Co-starring Zooey Deschanel, the publicity plays heavily on the eerie mysteries of Shyamalan’s best work, and Fox is clearly trying to win over The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable crowd, as opposed to Lady In The Water’s much smaller fanbase.
Yet, in an effort apparently to preserve the mystery surrounding the film, we can find no evidence of any review screenings. In fact, it seems the dreaded review blackout could well be in force for the first time this summer.
If that raises alarm bells, then it rightly should. Hark back to 1998, when Warner Bros held back screenings of The Avengers, and you generally uncover the reason why film studios are reluctant to let critics near films they know to be underwhelming. But surely M Night Shyamalan, with a movie that looks far closer to his home turf than his recent – and only – flop Lady In The Water, hasn’t made an outright disaster?
It’s hard to tell, but the signs don’t look good at all.
The curtailing of screenings is never a good indicator, and reports are that the same strategy is being adopted across the board, although we have no confirmation of this. The official explanation is that they want to “preserve the mystery”. It can’t help but leave you feeling, of course, that somebody has something to hide, and with the only positive vibes for the film we could find online coming from the mouth of Shyamalan himself (“It is an extremely scary movie. This is meant to scare you”, he is quoted as saying), alarm bells are blaring.
The muddled trailers don’t help, as they attempt to purvey a sense of mystery, but more often than not leave you with more of a ‘WTF’ than a ‘wow’. What mumblings we can find of people online who have claimed to have seen anything of the film aren’t very positive, but there’s a large pinch of salt likely to be required anyway. Even so, there’s clearly a problem here.
No studio wants to repeat the financial disaster that Speed Racer is set to be for Warner Bros, and even though The Happening has a far more contained budget than most for a summer film, Fox seems to think its best shot is to sell it heavily on the M Night Shyamalan angle, and hope for the best. It could well, sadly, prove to be the best strategy.
We’ll find out with you on Friday 13th June. Unlucky for some, perhaps?