It’s been four years since M. Night Shyamalan was last able to scare up much interest in one of his mind-bending thrillers, so this time the master of the twist ending is resorting to a trick he hasn’t tried before: a first-ever R rating. And Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind The Happening, is running with it, having chosen to tout the rating in large, bright-red type on virtually every piece of marketing material for the June 13 release. Starring Mark Wahlberg as a high school teacher on the run from an invisible deadly force, The Happening is one of only a few movies in recent history that have used the rating as a cornerstone of their promotional campaigns. But with the R-rated Sex and the City, The Strangers, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall having done boffo business at the box office this year, and with a bunch more potential R hits coming down the pike (Wanted, Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder) it couldn’t come at a better time to reignite M. Night’s career.
So is all this R talk rankling the MPAA’s ratings board, which discourages studios from sensationalizing restricted content in movies? Surprisingly not. The MPAA says all the ads were approved by the advertising administration. And John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, who is constantly asking the studios for more family-friendly films, is actually happy with the emphasis on the rating. “Everybody now has the information that it’s a different type of film from a filmmaker they know. If that means more people will go, then more power to them.”