Saturday, June 14, 2008

There's something Happening here/But what it is ain't exactly clear

Warning: Some spoilers to follow

M. Night Shyamalan's newest film, The Happening, is a silly-ass mess. This is hardly the worst thing in the world, the right group of people or the right amount of chemical intoxication can make a silly-ass mess a fairly enjoyable experience, but oh how the mighty have fallen.

Shyamalan has been trying to do damage control making comments to the effect of:

"I wanted it to be a fantastic, fun B-movie. The No. 1 thing is I want people to say: 'That was a really fun B-movie."


"If something happens during the movie and you think, 'That's dumb,' it'll be because whatever happened was actually too amazing for you to fully understand, or possibly a metaphor for something really crazy and cool."
-M. Night Shyamalan, (courtesy of Reuters)

Really Night? Really? Want to tell me what stilted Marky Mark delivery is a metaphor for? Or why I just watched people run from wind for twenty minutes and your dumb-ass arbitrary rules effect everyone BUT our protagonists? Or shaky footage of a guy getting his arms badly pulled off by lions was "TOO AMAZING" for me to understand? Really? Or Marky-Mark cradling the body of a very dead child telling him it's going to be ok? Oh, I get it, he's really telling the audience that we too will soon be released from the film much like the child was released from life by his senseless, cheap means to elicit sympathy. Or how about as a giant group of unaffected people just stand there allowing themselves to be killed. Bitch I know they weren't effected cause they held hands and clearly still had a coherent line of thought. Also, when a soldier starts ranting and raving about never abandoning their gun, I think anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows it's time to vamoose.
At best The Happening is a very mean-spirited horror film for an audience who must be willing to give themselves over to the flimsily envisioned premise. Shyamalan hasn't lost his knack for creating terror out of the mundane but the film is largely inconsistent in this regard. The opening mass suicides are chillingly effective, but suffer from diminishing returns. I've said it time and time again but the man needs to abandon the word processor and stay behind the camera. If he could write as well as authentically demonstrates fear and confusion then I wouldn't be writing this particular review. There's a huge disconnect between the way actual people act, the way people in your standard b-movie/horror movie act and then the way people in this movie act except when they're confused and frightened. The staggering amount of child endangerment in this film proves it. What father would honestly abandon their child when their wife was almost certainly dead?

This movie has a real ax to grind about the unpredictability of science and the way nature can bite back. I do think there is a decent b-movie to be made out of a toxic retribution on humanity for our abuse of the planet, but this sure as hell ain't it. Night undercuts his message by abandoning his more r-rated tendencies about half-way through the film. It should've committed to being a more PG-13 sort of parable about humanity learning from the "event" as it is called (often) and finding redemption on the other side or taking it in the opposite direction, a brutal hard R that never lets up as humanity is completely doomed and too late to do a damn thing about it.
If I've been notably muted about the acting it's because the performances on display are pretty rough or outright laughable. Mark Wahlberg would be convincing as a gym coach but as a science teacher? Did he get his degree at the University that gave us Dr. Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough? My adorable Zooey Deschanel is saddled with the weakest "affair" in the history of cinema and is frequently called upon to stare with her gorgeous doe eyes right into the camera. John Leguizamo tries his damnedest and I think manages to conjure a good deal of audience sympathy at least until he has to spit out a ridiculous speech where he has to calm someone down with a word problem. I don't know about you but at the moment of my near-death the last thing I want to think about is math. Theater legend Betty Buckley easily plays the most batshit crazy old woman I've seen in a movie in a long time. She's so damn strange she doesn't even call it lemonade, she calls it "lemon drink" (shudder).

Will I still go see M. Night Shyamalan movies post-The Happening? Yes. But we're getting father and farther afield of his original "good movies." I will say this for The Happening, it's a damn sight better than Lady in the Water, but never quite reaches the campy hysterics of the Village.


Anonymous said...

i thought you liked it more than that...

El Gigante said...

I liked it, but I didn't think the quality of the film was any good. I think the review reflects this. I will certainly not go out of my way to see it again, rent it or own it on DVD (or the kids new Blu-ray), but if one day I pass by it on USA and they're about to get to Betty Buckley's house I'll stick around until the next commercial.