Friday, June 13, 2008

MOVIE: THE HAPPENING [no spoilers]

The downward trend of M. Night Shyamalan movies has been discouraging. With THE SIXTH SENSE on his resume, he has ended up actually competing with his own success. Yet, despite the negative reaction to THE VILLAGE, due to a lack of real monsters, Shyamalan consistently provides memorable characters that shine despite any shortcomings in the actual story. Even LADY IN THE WATER had great moments because of the time Shyamalan takes to develop his characters. This might be why I’ve enjoyed his movies more after I’ve seen them several times. The plots may wobble occasionally, but the people are realistic and it is enthralling to watch their lives.

THE VILLAGE was saved by the characters. LADY IN THE WATER was partially salvaged by great acting. Unfortunately, THE HAPPENING is short on both.

One morning, for no apparent reason, something terrible happens in Central Park, spreading quickly to the surrounding area. This terrible event continues to hit other areas and we follow the story of Eliot a high school science teacher who gathers his wife and some friends to try and escape the danger that is moving across the country. As they flee this mysterious threat, Eliot tries to piece together what might be going on. Then it’s just a matter of survival.

First of all, there might be some truth to the theory that the critics are out to get this particular writer / director. Hollywood is unforgiving and is eager for the next scapegoat.

But there were major problems with THE HAPPENING. Mark Wahlberg is no Tom Hanks. He was barely even Mark Wahlberg. Once in a while, he seemed to get a hold of the character, and even pulled off some great humor, but most of the time he played the part half-heartedly. Paul Giamatti would have almost rescued this movie like he almost did for LADY IN THE WATER. The climactic scene was not climactic. Again, some great actors might have made it work, but this cast didn’t pull it off. The violence was a tad gratuitous and the message was as heavy handed as a campaign commercial.

On the plus side, the R-rating is merely due the deaths that occur in the film—if that’s any consolation. In fact, I don’t recall hearing much of anything along the lines of crude language or seeing anything else that would explain the rating. Once in a while, the dialogue is clever and gets some well-deserved laughs.

The main thing that might come to mind after seeing the movie is, “That could have been good.” If Shyamalan had gone through a few more drafts of the script. If the acting had been better. If the general idea was boosted up to more interesting levels. It could have been good. But sad to say, THE SIXTH SENSE is far, far away and Shyamalan seems unable to find his way back.

RECOMMENDATION: Don’t spend nine bucks. Wait for the DVD. Keep your expectations low and you might very well enjoy most of this movie.

But be assured. Even when Shyamalan is possibly at his worst, he does far better than most movie makers at their best.

1 comment:

David Schoder said...

I honestly wanted to cry after I saw this movie. And not because it was emotionally moving. Because it was a painful waste of a good idea, and it could've been a great movie, but it was so haphazardly put together, and the theme, if you can call it a theme, was extremely heavy-handed, and annoyingly treehugging. I went into the theatre, expecting to be somewhat scared, at best. Or maybe just entertained. Or at least slightly stimulated mentally. Unfortunately, nada. I wasn't even put into suspense. The scariest, most intense part of the film (and I don't think this qualifies much as a spoiler, but if you have read warnings against this film and yet still want to see it with high expectations, you probably shouldn't read the rest of this sentence) is a segment where it pans across, watching a tree blowing in the wind, occassionally snapping back to a shot of the panicked lead characters... Seriously? Are you really going to stoop so low, M Night? As far as suspense/horror films go, this one is terrible, but not even in the way that provokes humor, a la Army of Darkness. M Night's worst yet. And that says a lot, since this is the guy that made Lady in the Water. A totally nonsexual nymph in a pool, and wolves that look like mounds of grass, and tons of elaborate character class roles to make it all seem more interesting? And lets not forget not-even-close-to-explained treespringing wood-construct monkeys (or something to that effect) when a .45 would serve the purpose equally well. And the fact that M Night put a character in that was going to change the whole world with a piece of literature he wrote, and then had the audacity to cast himself for the part, in a sort of self-fulfilling messianic prophecy? Yeah, that was weak storytelling, and this movie is even worse. Honest to goodness, this one's worse. Please, PLEASE, spare yourself. Don't pay to see this film. If you MUST see it, do it in some fashion that requires no funding to the producers. Don't give them the satisfaction of putting out garbage, knowing it'll pull in the money just because of its writer/director/co-producer... Get it bootleg or something. Or just avoid it entirely. Seriously.