The Happening (2008) dir. M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
My reviews are not meant to stand as such forever. My opinions change with different viewings, sometimes dependent on mood, the environment/screening medium, timing, age etc. “The Happening, which I saw just a few months ago in the summer, was a fun cinematic experience. Despite horrible critical reviews, the good elements trumped the bad elements, and I gave it a decent ***.
However, a second screening at home has produced a reversal of thought – not full 180 degrees, maybe 115. Please re-read my original review HERE. I can only say “What was I thinking??”
"The Happening" is a simple story which literally jumps right into the story with haste. Some kind of epidemic or virus is sweeping the east coast of the U.S. Without warning large groups of people suddenly stop moving, become entranced zombies and then systematically commit suicide. Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) is a humble science teacher who desperately tries to bring his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and a small group of people to safety while trying to figure what the hell is going on.
Just about the only thing happening for “The Happening” is the wonderful dough-eyed performance of Zooey Deschanel. It’s hardly a star-performance, or anything close to a leading lady, but her soft-spoken innocence and gosh-darn wide-eyed stare is just too cute not to love. Unfortunately everyone else in the film is almost unwatchable. Other than the star names above, it’s largely unknown actors saying the lines. But I lay blame on Shyamalan who directed these actors to their awful performances. They are given familiar disaster-movie lines, like “what the hell is going on?”, Where are we” and “run!” The actors can’t even say these lines right.
On the DVD special features a whole featurette is devoted to the gore in the film. Shyamalan was encouraged by the studio to go for an R-Rating for the first time. Shyamalan describes his enthusiasm in using violence to increase the intensity of the film. But Shyamalan, who is a master at off-camera tension, should have known better. None of the gore works in this film. Almost every squirt of blood or hacked limb jumps out of the screen like an exclamation mark where none was required.
The problem is Shyamalan filmed the story with the same tone, pace and visual style as his other films, the effect of which was a statement against the gratuitousness of arbitrary gore. The most glaringly excessive gore moment is the one seen from a woman’s i-phone as the zoo-keeper gets mauled to death by the lion. Not only is the CG matting obvious it’s a near carbon-copy of a scene from Shyamalan’s “Signs” – a far superior film.
This time around, I just couldn’t look past the atrocious logical holes and decision-making inconsistencies. Specifically Julian’s (John Leguizamo) decision to leave his child with Elliot and Alma while he searches for his wife. No one in the world would do that. No one.
As well I could not look past the excessive use of expository television and radio coverage. The technique was used effectively and sparingly in “Signs”, but in this film Shyamalan continually bombards us with a scene every 10mins of a television reporter telling us information we knew already. It’s a mark of an inexperienced and lazy filmmaker, and so it’s amplified even more knowing it comes from someone with talent.
The only other saving grace is James Newton Howard’s fine minimalist score. In fact, I’d argue Howard as being the best music composer working in Hollywood today. With only a few notes he creates one of those effectively creepy scores we heard from John Carpenter in the 80’s.
The themes and metaphors of the environment, post 9/11 social cohesion, and over-population are sometimes subtle and sometimes blockhead. The inconsistencies are frustrating. I wish could have bottled my first experience with this film, because now I can only see it’s flaws. It’s a well-intentioned sloppy mess.
"The Happening" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray Oct 7 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment