Saturday, June 21, 2008

Not much really happens in The Happening movie...

Last night I went to the Arclight Hollywood cinema to see M. Night Shyamalan's new movie, The Happening, and here's what I thought of it (Spoiler alert! Don't read any further if you don't want to know major story elements of the movie).
The Happening movie billboard on Melrose Avenue in L.A.
Ultimately not much happens in The Happening and I thought the film was a real disappointment.   This was supposed to be Shyamalan's return to form after a series of progressively disappointing movies - Signs, The Village and culminating in the simply disastrous Lady in the Water.  Unfortunately the master of the major plot twist and self proclaimed modern day Alfred Hitchcock has missed the mark totally with his latest offering. 

Don't get me wrong, it's not a totally unwatchable movie and I did enjoy it.  The problem is, I didn't love it.  Following his stunning debut with the now classic, The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has wielded the plot twist as his major film making technique. So in this movie if he was going to make a departure from his signature style he needed to deliver a really well written, engaging and original film.  
The Happening movie poster

The disappointment for me was that I'd read a tiny review of the movie in the New York Times, which just happened to mention that trees and plantlife were the films main protagonists and the reason for the happening 'event' in the film. I took this on board but dismissed it at the time thinking there had to be more to the film than that and that wasn't to be the only revelation.  

Guess what?  That's it.  That's the big surprise.  There's no clever explanation, there's no amazing reveal, it's just that, mentioned not by a scientific genius but by an ordinary school teacher.  Ninety minutes later and I'm still waiting for something big the happen, but that's what it all boils down to and it's just silly and unbelievable (and I'm the sci-fi lover).  Where's 'Day of the Triffids' when you need it??

Why am I so disappointed you ask?  Well, I'd chanced upon the movie trailer months earlier, without any prior knowledge of the film, and it was the creepiest and cleverest preview I'd seen in a while.  I was so impressed, it even earned a place in my top five summer 2008 movie blockbusters.  The problem is, as with some other movies like this, all the stuff that was shown in the trailer happens in the first ten minutes of the film and then nothing much else happens for the rest of it.

The Director skillfully sets up this truly eerie scenario at the opening of the film with people dropping from the sky at a construction site, one after another in rapid progression, a woman on a bench talking with her friend reaches into her hair and grabs her hairpin and thrusts it into her neck, a police man shoots himself in the head then having dropped his gun another person picks it up and uses it and then another, building a real sense of shock and impending dread.
The Happening teaser movie poster
Again unfortunately we loose this sense of creepiness when the gore content rises - a man walks into a zoo lion enclosure and has his arms ripped off one at a time, and we see it as viewed on a witnesses camera phone.  

Later in the film another man lays down in front of a drivable lawn mover and gets mown to death.  Then there's the kid who you just know is going to get a chest full of bullets, it's so obvious, and why the hell did we need a crazy woman who lives on her own away from the rest of society - it's just too predictable and frankly unbelievable!

In addition to the weak storyline the actors don't really get much to do with their characters either.  Mark Wahlberg, who plays the biology school teacher, does what he can with the script he's given, but Zooey Deschanel, who plays his wife, doesn't really get to do much of anything.

So in a nutshell, I'd only give it 2 stars ** and recommend you wait for the film when it's in a DVD sale.  It's not atrocious, but it's not amazing either - I just needed something more to happen!

Let me know if you think otherwise...

If you liked this review,here's some other movie reviews you may be interested in:


scooter thompson said...

Hey Jason,
I came across your comments on The Happening via Digg. Hmm. It's interesting because for about an hour after the film, I nearly felt sort of similarly to you, perhaps. [apologizes for so many qualifications in that sentence]

But, quite frankly, I had to qualify because I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that a film master like Shyamalan would make a film that would leave most people so empty. And, then suddenly, much as what happened after pondering Lady in the Water so long and hard and finally figuring out it's hidden twist, a possible and speculative twist for The Happening occurred to me. And when it occurred to me, then I had to replay the film in my head to look for clues which I did find in abundance though I only needed a few blatant ones to make my case which I summarized in my spoiler for the film.

So, in summary, politely I must disagree with your comment that nothing happens and there's no super-chiller twist. The twist upon which I speculate is so huge, in fact, that most people will never contemplate it. It's so far-fetched on the one hand as to be readily dismissed as crack-pot film speculation on my part. And yet, it's hard to ignore those clues, mate, really hard.

So, check out my stuff on this film and see what you think.

regular review
spoiler review with speculation on the real twist in The Happening

Jason in Hollywood said...

Thanks for your comment Scooter - interesting theories about the films hidden twist.

I like your thinking, but what I would say is that Shyamalan needed a commercial success with this film and a movie that was easy to understand for the wider public and as simple and amazing as The Sixth Sense.

With The Happening I dont think he has that, although I look forward to rewatching on DVD to find any more clues!


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