Thursday, March 11, 2010

Archive: 'The Happening'

Movie Review
The Happening (2008)

M. Night Shyamalan must really think something of himself. In "Lady in the Water," he cast himself as a writer whose ideas would inspire change in the world, and now here he is preaching to us with a pompous political message in the disguise of a summer thriller. "The Happening" is a colossal misfire, something so self-absorbed that you watch it through an embarrassed haze trying to comprehend how such nonsense can come from the same director who originally brought us "The Sixth Sense." Although this latest film of his is about the end of the world, I felt like I was watching the end of a career.

One morning in Central Park in New York City, a strange wind blows and people start acting strangely. They lose their train of thought, they start walking backwards, and eventually, they begin killing themselves. The epidemic spreads throughout all of New York City and then the rest of the Northeast. It's an unexplained phenomenon, and the deaths are left under speculation of potential terrorist attacks. That notion is quickly dismissed, though, and no reasoning is left. Soon, all of New York City is being evacuated. Amidst this, we are introduced to a high school science teacher, Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), and his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel). There's also his friend, Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian's daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). They hop on a train to get ahead of whatever is going on, but the train loses all communication, and they're left stranded.

There's a point in the movie where Mark Wahlberg suggests everybody outrun the wind. And that's when all hope is dropped. What's the explanation for the odd occurrences? One eccentric man keeps suggesting that it's the plants and the trees sending off neurotoxins. We're never told if he's right, but let me just say that Shyamalan tries really hard to make looking upward at swirling trees blowing in the wind seem threatening. I don't think there's the sense of dread and suspense that he hoped for.

The big pull for this movie was its R-rating. What a joke. There's absolutely no reason for it other than to drag in the targeted teen audience. It's simply an excuse to watch people purposely mangle and kill themselves in increasingly displeasing ways. Watch as a man allows an automated lawnmower to run him over, or as a lion tears a man's arms off. And on top of that, none of it is even remotely scary and actually turns unintentionally humorous. "The Happening" is a bore, giving audiences nothing to keep them interested. While facing impending doom, even the actors involved seem emotionless. Wahlberg turns in his worst performance yet with such lines of dialogue as, "Whatever is happening is happening," and Deschanel acts comatose.

While Al Gore may approve, the idea of the environment striking back against the human race just doesn't make for quality cinematic intrigue. Shyamalan recently told the New York Times and Los Angeles Times that he doesn't want to be known as the guy who makes the scary movie with a twist. Well, now he's known as the guy who makes movies that suck. His lofty aspirations have never led to such an abysmal disaster as this. Thanks, M. Night. We know. Be nice to Mother Nature. We get it already. Now stop making movies.

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