The Happening (2008)
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M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan
Zooey Deschanel, Mark Wahlberg, John Leguizamo, Spencer Breslin, Betty Buckley, Tony Devon, Frank Collison, Stéphane Debac, Robert Bailey Jr., Jeremy Strong, Victoria Clark, Ashlyn Sanchez, Susan Moses
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Favorite Movie Quote: "Plastic. I'm talking to a plastic plant. I'm still doing it."
I think that one thing is abundantly clear based on the message present in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening: we better hurry up and kill all the f*cking plants before they get us. It's always the quiet ones.
What's "Happening" is that the plants of the world are releasing a chemical into the wind - the "Dragon" of this film - that removes people's inherent sense of self-preservation (and apparently, since we all would immediately kill ourselves without it, people shoot themselves, ram hairsticks into their throats, throw themselves off buildings, or run their cars into trees; one wonders if the emos and cutters would miss a beat). The film claims that there is a three-step process by which the chemical affects people but dispenses with the first two whenever it suits the 'plot': Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and Alma (Zoe Deschanel) are trying to survive, running away and hiding... from air. That's the whole movie - I sh*t you in the negative.
There's this really wispy subplot about Alma having a piece of cake with another man, and that's not a metaphor - she just had a piece of cake - but since Elliot is either a) a doormat (if you're a cynic), or b) a very understanding and forgiving man who deeply loves his wife (if you're a sucker), or c) more concerned with survival than who's eating who's cake or pie when or where, there's no real conflict and thus no arc betwixt them.
There's also another unfullfilled, wispy subplot involving Alma and responsibility - supposedly to be played out with her taking care of Julian's (John Leguizamo) daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) - but there's no point where she has to stand between Jess and danger and, in fact, drags her out into the open to die at the hands of our duplicitous flora when she and Elliot are ready to die. Way to put the needs of the child first. Jess, in truth, does more to try and save the life of a stupid teenager who is preparing to get himself shot than Alma or Elliot do to protect her when a psycho-witch slaps Jess' hand for trying to eat a cookie placed three inches in front of her face.
I have a theory that if the movie makes a good trailer than it could - COULD - make a good movie. The Happening had a good trailer, and while no where near as much fun as say a Marauder Wasteland or Zombie Apocolypse, it's not difficult to see this as a potentially interesting premise from which to craft a very different end of the world type scenario. However, since MNS is eschewing the fun of guns and wildly reckless slaughter good time for a heavy-handed green message I would think that he would either need to take it very seriously (ala Contagion) or go full on screwball comedy, which The Happening treads dangerously close to on several occassions.
Consider what's supposed to be a scene of building drama in which Julian is in a soft-top jeep with other survivors driving through an infected area. Everyone frantically tries to stuff articles of clothing in the cracks of the windows until - dun, dun, duuun! - Julian notices a small, one-inch tear in the roof. IT'S F*CKING AIR! AIR! IT'S GOING TO GET IN NO MATTER WHAT THE F*CK YOU DO! Is Shyamalan that stupid, or is it just that he thinks his audience is that stupid?
This is not an isolated incident either, as logic has no place in this land. The chemical attack from the evil vegetation itself is localized to the Northeast United States, and it's exhibited that the plants only react to larger clusters of people - until the film can't figure out how the f*ck to end at which point it affects whatever it wants and then just turns off. This is 'explained' (read: cop out) in the film as a "warning" by the plants and "a natural occurance that we will never understand". Whatever. There's nothing mysterious about affecting the area where a) Shyamalan lives (since he's too lazy to film away from Pennsylvania) and b) the area where there's the highest concentration of movie-goers. If the plants wanted to strike a high concentration of polluting humans, uh, China? It's like when hardcore ass-Christians claimed Katrina was God's wrath. Is His aim so bad that he can't smite Bangkok?
It's also important to note that every other aspect of filmmaking is also bush league, basic, lame, or plain bass ackwards. People - in The Happening - do not behave like people in the real world. A good case and point would be the sequence at the construction site - five minutes into the movie - when workers immediately start weeping at the first guy who tosses himself off (when they would've had every reason in that moment to believe it was simply an accident, and construction workers don't weep), and the dialog fails to match the visual when the worker tells the three other guys there to "give him some space", only no one was crowding him, and the three guys just kind of shuffle back a quarter step.
And this is by no means an isolated incident. Julian doesn't wait for his wife at the train station but does go back through the plague zone to find her once she's a needle in a stack of dead needles, LEAVING HIS EIGHT-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER. A crew of lawncare workers with a fleet of big industrial mowers goes to the trouble to hang themselves (over the street, no less, for dramatic effect), while another completely unrelated person actually sets a big mower up to run him over. Even little things - like when a police officer shoots himself in the FRONT OF THE HEAD (make a gun with your fingers and try to shoot yourself in the forehead; now place your 'gun' to your temple or under the chin, it's easier) - are just... off.
The dialog is unintentionally hilarious - "It makes you kill yourself. Just when you thought there couldn't be any more evil that could be invented" - and Zoe Deschanel, for one, is acting as though she's SURE that she's in Mars Attacks! not The Andromeda Strain. Wahlberg, who's at his best when he's a little emotionally unhinged or playing a tough guy (The Departed, Boogie Nights, The Fighter) is terrible trying to play the goodie two-shoes science teacher (this is why actors stop trusting directors).
It's even shot wrong. Almost the entire thing is shot in the bright of day with flat light and flat shots - which is typically reserved for, you guessed it, comedies.
There's a language to film and it's clear that between The Happening, Lady in the Water, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, I think most sane people can agree that Shyamalan has either been struck with a curse of babel, that he's a one (or maybe two) hit wonder, or that perhaps he was just a hack from the beginning. What is unclear is why anyone would keep giving this awful filmmaker more money.
But it keeps happening.
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