PSA: The Happening (2009), or I Blame Zooey Deschanel For My Hatred Of All Plant Life

22 07 2009

I love the quadruple take of that! Gets me every time!

Everybody hates The Happening. That’s just a given. If I ask, “What do we breathe?”, you respond, “Air.” If I ask, “Who’s your favorite superhero?”, you respond, “Mr. T.” And if I ask you what the worst M. Night Shyamalan movie is,your gut instinct will be to say, “The Happening.” It’s the film that everyone loves to mock and deride. It’s one of the most incredible misfires of the past few years, and I honestly don’t know whats’ worse; the fact that I saw it in theaters or the fact that when I first saw the one-sheet and heard the premise, I actually thought it might be good. I feel double-bamboozled for that very reason. So, for those of you who want a number rating so you can move along with your day, I give The Happening 1 1/2 Mark Wahlberg estrogen freak-outs out of 10. It’s bad, but you already knew that. The rest of this review, I’ll be dipping into a rant about what makes this movie the way it is. Feel free to leave now if you didn’t want to be a part of that. I’ll be watching Robinson Crusoe On Mars tomorrow, so I’ll see you then!

Okay, all the stragglers gone?

Good. Now, to explain the plot, I’ll try to be as careful as I can without spoiling THE SHOCKING SECRET! The tragedy is that it sounds SO promising on paper! Basically, the story follows Elliott, a high school science teacher in Philly who is as normal as can be. One day, he’s doing some science stuff with kids when he hears about a troubling event happening across the Eastern seaboard, around where he lives. The news isn’t very clear as to what it is, though, this event. It’s a horrible…thing, whatever it is, that is killing people left and right. Distraught and confused as to what they should do, Elliott and his protegee Julian, along with Julian’s daughter Jess, make their way across the city to meet their respective spouses. They find Elliott’s wife Alma, and together they want to leave the city, as whatever the thing is that’s happening is coming closer to them. But Julian’s wife is all the way in Princeton, New Jersey, which has already been hit hard by the effects of the…thing. So at a train stop outside Philly, Julian decides to leave his daughter in the care of Elliott and Alma to go out and look for her. The bewildered group goes far outside of the confines of the city to find shelter, but even in the farthest reaches, can the…whatchamacallit still get to them?

It’s hard to even talk about it, because a very strange aspect of this viewing experience is that you’re not supposed to know WHAT is happening the first time you watch it. I respect that, even though I don’t respect the movie. But honestly, all this secrecy about the plot won’t make it much better for you, even if you ARE shocked about the outcome. It’s a mess all around.

First of all, they cast everyone against type, a la Southland Tales. Mark Wahlberg plays a walking, talking vagina of a high school teacher. John Leguizamo plays a dorky guy with glasses and various other “nerdy” teacher affectations. And Zooey Deschanel plays an actual human being!!! It results in the exact same horrid effect that it did in Southland Tales, too! Nobody seems believable; not because they are stepping outside of the box, but because they strain so hard outside of the box. Wahlberg seems to have the most trouble adjusting, which is strange because I always thought he had the most potential as an actor. But here he turns the ineffectual knob to an 11, which doesn’t bode well for ANY hero, and completely overdoes it. I swear, Elliott is unreasonably bubbly and composed for such an…event to be going on around him. In some scenes you can almost see the tampon string coming out of his mouth, for fuck’s sake!

And I hope you weren’t expecting to hear anything positive about Shyamalan’s direction. His “less-is-more” strategy only works if there is sufficient pay-off for the audience to reward them for sitting through a barrage of anti-eventful scenes. That can work for a film like Signs or The Sixth Sense, where there is a TWIST at the end to make people feel like there is a reason to keep the tension high by adding a lot of static scenes. But the only TWIST here is that there is no TWIST. It’s a lot of stagnation and mood that goes nowhere and comes from nowhere, like a Mobius strip of angsty film. The only secret to be deciphered is what is happening, and when it is revealed (about halfway through the film, by the way!) there is nothing to do but laugh to yourself, shake your head at the film, and press on for another 40 minutes.

And a quick note about dialog! Anyone who wants to talk to me about how Shyamalan’s dialog is “misunderstood”, watch this movie first. I was floored by an unnaturalism that was partly delivery, partly script-rooted, and wholly shit. Zooey Deschanel’s Alma deserved her weight in Razzies alone (that’s not many awards, considering how waifish she is, but my point stands). So be prepared, Internet Shyamalan Fans (the ISF), if you want to talk to me about his direction, his choice in music, his use of actors, or even his hair, I believe it’s up for debate and you COULD change my mind with a reasonable argument. But I will not budge on any defense regarding his wince-inducing dialog! Here’s a little taste at the end of this muddy clip. Enjoy:

Wow. You really sold me there, lady.

So, in conclusion, this movie sucks. Oh, wait, did I already tell you that earlier? Well, good. End rant! That explains my low rating, and that also explains my stance on Shyamalan since The Village. As I said, my review tomorrow will be Robinson Crusoe On Mars, and now that I’m done with that fiasco, I’m gonna go rinse out my eyes with some hilarious internet clips! Here’s one of my favorites!!!

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2 responses

23 07 2009
goregirl

I was kinda excited in the first few minutes of the film, when that woman took the hair ornament out and shoved it into her neck. But it all goes down the toliet after that! Pee-u!

23 07 2009
cinematronica

I’ll agree with you there. That opening scene was tense, wasn’t it? M. Night doesn’t flinch, I’ll give him that. But it doesn’t help when he’s keeping his gaze fixed to a train wreck like this. A hearty kudos to Goregirl, by the way, for bringing back my favorite old-fashioned insult: Pee-u!

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