I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Happening

Okay, you guys were right. I’ve been defending M. Night Shyamalan as a talented director based on how he moved the camera around in THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE. I didn’t like SIGNS as much, but alot of it worked. I didn’t see THE VILLAGE, which may have strengthened my argument through the ancient technique of “denial.” And LADY IN THE WATER was a hilarious disaster, which means he’s at least interesting even when he’s embarrassing himself and all of his ancestors and descendants and anyone who has ever known him or seen one of his movies.

But after this one I’m with you guys, I give up on Shyamalan. And it has nothing to do with twist endings (there isn’t one in this movie). This is just a bad movie that blows it from the beginning and gets more silly as it goes along, and there isn’t even much of the technical skill he used to display to make up for it.

The HappeningThe movie (loosely based on WHAT’S HAPPENING? I believe) is about a day when all the sudden everybody in Central Park just snaps and commits suicide. It’s assumed to be caused by a terrorist attack, but then it starts happening at other places, and not just in major cities. The story follows science teacher Mark Wahlberg and his wife Zooey Deschanel as they try to find somewhere safe to go, etc.

It’s a scary idea with some creepy death sequences and you’d think the Shyamalan of those two Bruce Willis movies would be able to make it, as they say on the covers of DVDs, “Scary as hell.” But to me the movie never, even at the beginning, feels real. The opening is kind of like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, two great movies to emulate. Except in this one, instead of taking a little time to establish everyday life before something odd starts happening, it takes about 3 sentences of conversation on a bench before everybody starts killing themselves.

As the disaster spreads there are just too many things that don’t ring true at all. One that really bugged me was when some construction workers see their friend fall of the building they’re working on, thinking it’s an accident – and their reaction is to stand there in awe. There’s no fuckin way! Have you ever seen somebody get hit by a car, or an old lady fall down? People might hesitate for a second, but then they run in from all directions and try to help. These construction workers see their buddy fall down and they just stand there, then one guy walks toward him and says “give him some room.” Then another guy falls, and they just stand there for him too. It doesn’t make any sense.

Another one: a woman in a crowd is talking to her terrified daughter on a cell phone, and tells the daughter to keep looking out the window next to the tree. Wahlberg (who does not know her) tells her no, tell her to stay away from the window next to the tree, so she does tell her that. Then he starts telling her questions to ask. Then when the girl starts talking nonsense (the first symptom of the toxin) the woman puts the phone on speaker and holds it up so everyone in the crowd can hear. And as the daughter is apparently killing herself the mother allows Wahlberg to take the phone away from her and listen. It’s as if the movie was made by a guy who just woke up from a 20 year coma and has not had a chance to reacquaint himself with human behavior.

It’s like the problem alot of you had with Indiana Jones. A couple things like this wouldn’t kill a movie, but the camel is covered in ten tons of straw before it even steps out into the desert. This movie is mostly made up of odd, not believable behaviors. The whole point of a disaster movie is to make it feel like it’s really happening (get it? happening.) It’s kind of amazing how fake movies look after 9-11. Didn’t you learn what it was like to really experience that kind of terror? So why do you have all these phony news reports pop up to convey all the information you want: experts say it is a terrorist attack. Experts say it might not be a terrorist attack. Most people believe it’s the government, because a confidential source said the CIA has a secret base in the northeast. What the fuck? Do people who make movies just not get cable? I don’t understand how you put these in movies and expect people to accept them as actual news broadcasts.

I think this is a problem he started having with SIGNS. Maybe he’s better at small stories about a few characters. Once he starts trying to depict world-wide disaster it’s clear that he doesn’t get out much. The other problem that started with SIGNS that is a big one here is his “sense of humor.” He’s trying to build this serious tension and then for some reason he thinks it’s funny to have a guy talk about how he thinks hot dogs are underrated. Worse, he seems to think it’s a good idea to put most of the “jokes” in at the end, when the tension should be highest. He has a mostly dead serious movie about a sudden disaster that seems likely to end the human race, and in the last half hour he decides to have a little comedy routine about Mark Wahlberg talking to a plant.

Wahlberg I’m afraid is pretty bad in the movie. I like the guy but he’s not the kind of actor who can play all different types. He sort of needs to stick to working class. As soon as he starts using the word “whom” you got a problem. And here he has to deliver alot of terribly written dialogue where, based on only basic information he comes up with a theory for why this is happening (get it again, happening), that’s obviously supposed to be correct.

And that’s another thing. SPOILERS AHEAD. You knew this being 2008 that the reason for THE HAPPENING would involve the environment, right? But the novel twist Shyamalan puts on it is pretty fuckin funny. I had to put on Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants to write this review in honor of Shyamalan’s revival of ’70s new age theories. The movie argues that plants can communicate with each other and are pissed at humans and are releasing toxins in order to defend Mother Earth from the humans. I had trouble holding back laughter in the scene where, after enough hints have been dropped that this is what’s going on, a soldier says “whoever’s doing this may be watching the roads” as he stands on a road with a bunch of trees behind him. LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU!

And I swear on Christ’s rarely used crutch that there’s a scene in this movie where a little girl is playing on a rope swing and the camera keeps panning up to the branch it’s tied to as if you’re supposed to be scared. Did you see the expression on his bark? He looked fuckin pissed!

I don’t know, man. Nice try coming up with something new, but I had trouble finding this premise not hilarious. There’s a scene where Wahlberg is in sort of a cabin and there’s pounding from outside and I was hoping the door would swing open and there’d be a GARFIELD style computer-animated Lorax standing there with a pissed off look on his face. That would be a good Shyamalan twist for you.

It’s kind of weird that there’s a whole wave of “suddenly everybody snaps and turns violent” type movies now. There’s this one, THE SIGNAL, there’s the Stephen King book called CELL I think that’s supposed to become an Eli Roth movie, I think there’s some other ones, and then there’s 28 DAYS LATER which is pretty similar. Must be something in the post 9-11 air about this particular theme, I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure if it is remembered as a late oughts cultural phenomenon this will not be the movie anybody points to as representative. It’s a bad movie and not even that crazy of a bad movie, so I’d honestly recommend watching LADY IN THE WATER before this one. That one has more unintentional laughs and a couple monsters here and there.

So I don’t know what it was, I don’t know if I was just wrong about this guy ever being good, if those good ones were a fluke, or if he just snapped due to toxins and is not himself anymore. But many believe it was Bruce Willis. This is because there is a confidential source who says that Bruce Willis secretly directed THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE.

Still, I’m gonna assume anybody who refers to Shyamalan as “Shamalamadingdong” or anything like that is a dumbass. Even if you can convince me it’s not some xenophobic shit where you gotta make fun of any name that doesn’t sound American it still reflects poorly on you. A guy who makes movies as bad as this and LADY IN THE WATER, you oughta be able to come up with something better than making fun of his name like a playground bully.

And before we pack it in for the evening I think we should all share in some possible alternate titles for THE HAPPENING. I would have to start with PLANT OF ATTACK. You could also go with PLANT 9. THE HILLS HAVE PLANTS.DON’T GO ANYWHERE NEAR THE WOODS. LEAF ME ALONE. ABSENT WITHOUT LEAVES. MAXIMUM OVERPLANT.

Hmmm, I thought this would be alot easier than it’s turning out to be. I was thinking you could just take any movie title or phrase with “me” in it and replace “me” with “tree.” But for some reason all the ones that come to mind are small indie movies that don’t sound real badass. For example YOU CAN COUNT ON TREE or TREE, YOU, AND EVERYONE TREE KNOW. Or if you find a phrase using “fallen” you can change it to “pollen.” But POLLEN ANGELS doesn’t work.

You know what – I think I got it. TREEVENGE. Yep, I’m sticking with TREEVENGE.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Sunday, June 15th, 2008 at 8:02 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 Responses to “The Happening”

  1. I’ve got it: Plantasm!

  2. Man, you must see The Village. Amazing filmatism. Signs is a great movie too.

  3. Shymalan usually is gold with his filmatics. Its just his writing has gone to shit, either because people quickly figured out his gimmick (twist ending*) or he thought his first drafs were awesome. The last two movies felt that way.

    I think maybe he should have figured something was rotten in Denmark when his longtime studio Disney (who made a fortune off his previous pictures, including VILLAGE) told him and LADY IN THE WATER to fuck off.

    His SIXTH SENSE had, unless I’m mistaken, many many many rewrites from first draft to the movie.

    *=THE VILLAGE really is the dude trying his best Rod Serling, no? Certainly could have been a rather fine TWILIGHT ZONE episode. Though how much are those episodes fun if you already guessed the ending? Just a muse.

  4. This Movies on HBO now so my not paying for it justified my viewing of it last night.

    Its hard to believe some studio exec read this script and gave it the green light. The dialogue is so horribly bad i actually started upsetting my wife with my laughing.

    The Hills Have Plants is by far the winner of the re-name this horrible movie contest. Although Tress Make Wind Now would be a close second.

  5. Some day I gotta read that book about him making LADY IN THE WATER. I remember Entertainment Weekly had an excerpt of it before the movie came out, and in that context it came off like he was this genius and Disney had totally blown it because they just couldn’t see his vision. But of course then I watched the movie and, nope, they were right. I’ve heard the book is really funny, but it might just be depressing, I don’t know.

  6. The M. Night book was a fun read with some good behind the scenes stuff with LADY IN THE WATER and that famous crazy Australian cinematographer whose name I can’t remember right now. I’d say read it (I finished it during a two-day temp job stint), but if you don’t, at least read the last page. The author ends it with a series of quotes from M. Night, Ron Howard’s kid, etc. that tries for a kind of sentimental ending, but then Giamatti goes and wrecks it beautifully.

  7. I can’t quite agree that MNS’s writing is the sole problem while his direction remains strong.
    Jim Emmerson has a great article on his sight where he deconstructs the filmatism of the Happening and pretty much proves what I had already suspected. The Happening is a poorly staged, badly blocked, ineptly shot and amateurishly assembled mess.

    It’s also the job of the director to establish tone, and in that regard MNS totally shit the bed. He can’t seem to decide if he’s making a nail biting suspense thriller, or a “hillarious” comedy. It’s practically a Mick Bay film that way.

  8. KENT: Cinematographer was Christopher Doyle. I still haven’t got around to seeing WHAT’S HAPPENING, but this re-reading this review reminded me to do that very thing!

    I did read THE GREEN EFFECT script and that wasn’t great – it wasn’t awful, but it felt a little half-baked. I still reckon that a virus that makes people go nuts (and a self-destructive rather than homicidal nuts) is a pretty good idea…

    Dunno’ about the rest of you, but that trailer for THE CRAZIES remake looks amusing. Well, the first half, at least, then it seems to go ultra-generic and give away the end of the film. Shame.

  9. From a technical level, the Happening is impeccable. It’s beautiful to look at. But on every other level (acting, reality, suspense, logic) it fails miserably. Occasionally Mark Whalberg manages to make it funny because he’s using his ‘funny guy’ voice (as seen in Boogie Nights, the Big Hit) as opposed to his ‘serious actor’ voice (Three Kings) and the “I will fucking kill you if you mention the funky bunch” voice (The Departed), so that gets the Unintentional Comedy Scale up. Everything else is wretched. I’m sure someone has compiled the worst stuff into a Youtube montage, Wicker Man style, so watch that and skip the rest of this dogshit.

  10. http://www.traileraddict.com/trailer/the-last-airbender/trailer

    as bad as THE HAPPENING and LADY IN THE WATER were(and both were thoroughly god-awful) I can’t help but be excited for this movie after seeing these trailers. I do admit though that I have no knowledge of the source material so for all I know he’s raping the franchise in the trailer.

    You guys going to shill out any more money on M. Night?

  11. Mark Wahlberg gave a very Mark Wahlberg-y appraisment of this movie: http://www.avclub.com/articles/mark-wahlberg-acknowledges-that-the-happening-suck,48067/

    See, that’s why I like that guy.

  12. So After Earth is finally at the Redbox, and damnit, I loved it. I wouldn’t go as far to say “M. Night Shyamalan is BACK” but it’s his best film in ages (I think Last Airbender is his absolute worst, not only because it doesn’t come close to living up to the great source material, but it’s made so blandly and anonymously). There’s nothing anonymous about his choices in After Earth – it’s weird and uncommercial, full of slow-burn scenes evoking Malick and Kubrick. It’s the Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning of Will Smith summer movies (with a little bit of the Broadway-play tendencies of Hulk thrown in)

    And I think that’s the main problem – it’s a small movie masquerading as a big Will Smith summer movie. Had this been a 127 Hours-style art film involving a hiking trip, a bear, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ezra Miller, I think people would have dug it. Hopefully on video with diminished expectations, people will come to appreciate it. It feels like something I would have loved on HBO as a kid, and I mean that in the best possible way.

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