Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Happening.... is not.

M. Night Shyamalan is a very confusing filmmaker.

He started off with a brilliant film -
The Sixth Sense - in 1999. He's never been able to top the brilliance and the affect of that movie, but even some of his later outings were commendable as an attempt to best himself. And some weren't. But all of his films were, at the very least, GOOD. Even if they weren't great, they were still well-acted, well written, and there was always a palpable mood about each and every one of them.

But that all ends with his latest effort,
The Happening, released yesterday, Friday the 13th of June.

Mark Wahlberg is Elliot Moore - a high school teacher in (where else?) Philadelphia, PA - who's having troubles with his wife, Alma (played by the hauntingly beautiful Zooey Deschanel). When a series of bizarre events, (in the form of some sort of airborne chemical agent which causes individuals' brains to reverse their natural sense of preservation, causing the victim to involuntarily seek their own immediate destruction) seems to be hitting in various highly-populated regions across the American North-East, Elliot, Alma and Elliot's co-worker/best friend, Julian (John Leguizamo) board a train for safer pastures, toting along young Jess - Julian's daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez).

As people on the train all are experiencing the gruesome demise of their loved ones via cell phone, the train comes to a halt in Filbert, PA (aka, the middle of nowhere) because, as the conductor tells Elliot, they've "lost contact... with everyone."

When the event begins occurring to smaller and smaller groups of people, our heroes are running for their lives and the chase has truly begun.

But here are the problems:

Wahlberg, an actor who has proven his merit with films such as Boogie Nights, The Italian Job, and (perhaps best in) The Departed, seems to have taken a dive. His acting in this film is completely dry, spacey and unbelievable.  But because he has proven himself so well in the aforementioned films, we all know that the boy
can act. All I'm left to deduce is that he was instructed (or "directed") to act this way. The same goes for the budding actress, Deschanel, who performed better in The Sci-Fi Channel's (pretty bad) Tin-Man mini-series, or in Elf.  Perhaps this was was a conscious creative decision made by the director in an attempt to create a more creepy, nightmarish mood.  But - much like the performances - it fell flat.

I can also pretty much guarantee that
everyone will be left disappointed with the ending. It's brazenly anti-climactic, and folks - if you didn't like how The War of The Worlds ended, (even though it's the exact same ending from the original story as it was written over 100 years ago and is brilliant in it's poetic irony,) you won't wanna spend one red cent on this film.

And, without giving too much away, the ultimate evil in this film is nothing more than
the wind. I repeat: our "monster" in this film is a strong gust of wind. Granted, no one has ever, or possibly could ever make a gust of wind as scary as Mr. Shyamalan did.  But in the end, it's just not that scary.  It's trees gently twisting and turning in the breeze; grass bowing in submissive unison.  And he even makes a large, innocent oak tree look like a villain with an evil agenda.    And that is his art.   But it just didn't pack the punch that, say, a dead woman in a bicycle helmet walking by your car window did.  It's still just a tree.

Perhaps the biggest faux-pa in the film was the under-development of the characters and their personal story. Unlike the romantic resolutions created between lovers in The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, the story between Alma and Elliot seems tacked-on and predictable; a huge let-down.

On the other hand...

What was still clever about this immensely lack-luster production was the way in which Shyamalan wrote subliminal (and sometimes more overt) messages into the script about what is
really going on here.  In that respect, this film is a powerfully-charged social commentary about the attitude of the human race toward Mother Earth; about the cancerous Human ego, and the short-sighted vanity of our belief that we, as a species, think we know a better way to live than nature has given us.

In this regard, the premise is about an attack of Nature Herself on a seemingly-threatening human race; swiftly and effectively, and on a mass-scale.  If you do go to see this film, (or watch it in any capacity) look for hidden-yet-overt messages, like "You DESERVE this!" or "It's not nice to touch things that don't belong to you!"   Julian's final math riddle serves as a metaphor about how fear breeds exponentially, and look for a well-used prop - a mood ring - to give you real meaning behind what is making people kill themselves in droves. With just a small bit of analysis, Shyamalan will give you the whole story without shoving it down your throat.  Even if the point was cheesy, at least that was nicely done.

And as bad of a movie as it was over-all, Shyamalan still managed to pepper in some of his trade-mark "dry-humor-amidst-immanent-demise" screenwriting.  Some of my favorite moments include Elliot's revenge story about a "very attractive girl behind the counter at the pharmacy" and his showdown with a plastic plant.

Some other interesting facts:

  • This is Shyamalan's first "R" rated movie.
  • For the first time, the director has not written a cameo role for himself in this film. (Not one that appears on-screen in person, anyway.)
  • The film features Spencer Breslin, older brother of child-phenom actress Abagail Breslin (who, before rocketing to super-stardom for her role in Little Miss Sunshine, stole the show from the likes of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix in Shyamalan's Signs in 2002).
  • This film has now made both Wahlberg brothers (Mark and Donnie) players in the great Shyamalan film collection. Donnie played Vincent Gray, the man who breaks into the house and shoots Bruce Willis in the beginning of The Sixth Sense in 1999.

In the end - this is a decent rental
if you're an M. Night Shyamalan fan. Just not worth the $11 I spent to see it in the back row of a huge thater. Everyone was disappointed.... and parking sucked. (Stupid Mira Mesa.)

I give it 29 out of 47 stars.


Reuven said...

well put mike. I still want my money back though.

Mike Wood said...

What money? I paid for your ticket!!

Princess said...

What about in his past movies with the symbolism of water? There was no water in this movie at all.