– Summary –
Director : M Night Shyamalan
Year Of Release : 2008
Principal Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley, Ashlyn Sanchez, Frank Collison, Victoria Clark, Jeremy Strong, Brian O’Halloran, Alan Ruck.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: All over the East Coast of America, people start killing themselves for no apparent reason. In order to escape the madness, a group of survivors attempts to travel inland and find out what is going on.
What we think : Nowhere near as horrendous as the internet would have you believe, The Happening still isn’t a great film from director Shyamalan, who preys on our fear of unexplained once again to send chills down out spine. The death of a character via lawnmower in this film has spawned similar gags to “the propellor guy” from Titanic – and not in a good way. Ultimately, devoid of tension at the end, this film wastes lots of potential and spurns the audience in favor of a cheap gimmick.
Am I the only person in the world who actually liked this film? Reading other reviews, you’d be forgiven for thinking this film was a dire mess with no watchability at all; a cinematic assault on all common decency and reason. Truthfully, I think the film does contain a couple of major, major faults. But it’s not a bad film to watch: it’s the central conceit that’s perhaps a little off putting.
M Night Shyamalan (What do you think his friends call him? M? Night? Or something else?) has produced some excellent films in his relatively short career. The Sixth Sense, one of cinemas great twist endings, created a legend that was never going to be able to continue. I think the man outdid himself in that one film. Since then, it’s simply been a matter of regurgitating the same idea multiple times. The twist in Signs, the twist in The Village, the twist in Unbreakable, the twist in The Lady In the Water… wait, TLITW had no real twist, but you get my point. In every one of his films, M Night manages to weave a plot device so cunning into the final act that you often find yourself doubting what you’ve seen before.
Such was the expectation after the disappointing Lady In The Water, that when critics feasted their eyes on The Happening, they decried Shyamalan’s career and called it over. Personally, I don’t think things are that dire yet, but they’re certainly not at the same level as he started. I think it’s fair to say the great M Night has been on a steady decline since he burst onto the scene with a young tot seeing dead folks.
The Happening, in the same way that Signs did, plays on our fear of the unknown, a planet-shaking experience experienced by a single group of people: in this case, Mark Wahlberg and his wife, played by Zooey Deschanel. When people start to commit mass suicide across the eastern seaboard of the US, panic sets in. Instantly, the media and government assume it’s the work of terrorists, but, as the days draw on and increasing numbers of people suddenly kill themselves, a more sinister line of thinking begins.
The problem with the film is one that cannot be explained without giving away the plot twist. The central conceit of the film is exactly what is making people do what they do, behave in such a way. Nope, it’s not dead people, aliens or even superheroes. It’s something so weird, so ludicrous, you might even find yourself throwing something hard and heavy at the TV screen when you find out what it is.
I won’t reveal it here, but it’s a terrible idea.
Once you get past the Terrible Idea, you start to imagine how critics who saw this in a cinema must have felt. Ripped off? Gypped? Probably. But then, The Happening isn’t high art. It isn’t even good cinema in the way Shyamalan plays with our emotions. Yet, I enjoyed myself, playing along with the central plot twist with as much incredulity as most other who’ve seen it.
The fact is, the film starts off really, really well. Almost like the old Shyamalan is back. Steady camera work, wonderful “holy crap!” moments that make you wince and shiver with a kind of terror you haven’t felt in ages. But then, as things start to become clearer for our heroes, and the reasons behind the events in the film are made clear, you do start to feel like you’ve been led to a watering hole and told to drink battery acid.
Perhaps Shyamalan should try directing somebody else’s script for a change, instead of doing it all himself. After The Happening, hopefully a producer will sit him down and read him the riot act. After all, Shyamalan is one hell of a good visualist: he understands the cinematic medium extremely well. I once commented to a friend that I think Shyamalan channels Hitchcock a lot more than even Hitchcock did. Imagine Shyamalan turning his skills to a remake of The Birds? Shivers.
But he’s grown to big for his britches. He needs pulling down a peg or two, and get back to making decent, well thought out films with a point that can be achieved, not some pie-in-the-sky effort like The Happening.
Many people have stated that they think Wahlberg is terrible in this film: I disagree. He’s not terrible, but the script is. Deschanel, with her wide eyed and cherubic features, is dreadfully miscast as his wife, and cannot bring herself to the level that is required of an emotional role like this. Wahlberg tries hard, but is ultimately hamstrung by a wobbly plot and some truly malevolent situational material.
The Happening is not a great film, by any stretch. It’s not even a good film. It’s well filmed, well acted for the most part, and certainly has some of the most arresting visuals of any film I’ve seen this year, however, what it lacks is a coherent idea and logic. The final act of the film descends into a kind of cinematic madness that Shyamalan cannot pull the film out of, and the twist ending is obvious and stupid.
Yet, for all these faults, I still enjoyed it: perhaps it was the vicarious thrill of the whole thing, I am not sure, but The Happening is good for at least one view, and after that, the DVD could be reasonably used for a drinks coaster.