I see "dead" movies

The Happening
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo; directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Rating: This film just “happened” to have been made before.

Here’s a film about nature fighting back. Arrogant mankind has too long spewed toxins into the environment, paved over paradise, enslaved innocent creatures for our food and amusement and otherwise treated the natural world with complacency and neglect.

So nature decides to take matters into its own hands — or claws or teeth or webbed feet or hooves.

Individual humans are attacked and dispatched in increasingly gruesome and novel ways. One man, a robust hero, struggles to understand what is happening. This method of human population control seems to mystify everyone. Is it terrorists? Is it lunatics? Is it human ineptitude?

As he struggles to piece it together, the hero also encounters woman troubles. He encounters people who are exceedingly skeptical that nature can be wreaking havoc and killing people. He takes to the woods and fields trying to save himself and others. But the arrogant humans — those who fail to understand the havoc they wreak — are not so lucky.

The film is bathed in pathos punctuated by cheesy dialogue and shocking acts of violence — not by man against man, but man against himself and of nature against man. People panic, but they’re too self-obsessed and in too much denial to understand what is happening until it’s too late to save themselves.

In the end, there’s the suggestion that nature will continue to fight back and spread that fight far and wide — even throughout the world. We humans must begin to learn to understand nature and live within its limits and laws or we will be doomed to perish. Or at least to have our surging numbers kept in check.

And the name of this film is ... Frogs. That’s right, the 1972 film starring Ray Milland as an arrogant patriarch on a plantation that’s polluting the surrounding forests. He invites a number of his family down for a party and they are systematically devoured by a collection of snakes, spiders, alligators and — of course — frogs. Sam Elliot stars as the hero who tries to understand what is happening and save himself and others.

Trying to discern the subtle differences between The Happening and Frogs is like trying to figure out the difference between crocodiles and alligators. They’re from the same filmic phylum. The above description applies equally to both, and the many similar themes and elements had me harking back to this cheesy 1972 popcorn thriller about our cavalier treatment of nature and the need for us to make amends or face the dire consequences.

In The Happening, Mark Wahlberg plays the Sam Elliot hero role, and humans are dispatched by nature in equally gruesome ways — if not exactly by frogs.

It’s sad that this message about our mistreatment of nature still needs to be communicated after more than 35 years. It’s also sad that its delivery is still as cheesy in The Happening as it was in Frogs.

Doug Young is, indeed, The Statesman’s outstanding film critic. He also works for Congressman Mark Udall as an environmental policy advisor.