“The Happening”: Even if you don’t see the movie…read this review!

The Happening

I am absolutely one hundred percent completely exhausted from the heat and the work I did today, but something has been compelling me for the past couple nights to sit down and write about M. Knight Shyamalan’s new movie The Happening. There are certainly better movies I’ve seen recently that I should probably be writing about instead… The Hulk, Mongol, even Don’t Mess With the Zohan, but when it comes down to it, I have to write about The Happening, because…I just do.

The marketing campaign had me at a big red rated “R” that was posted on all the billboards across America. What the heck was Shyamalan going to do with his first R-Rated film? That’s all I knew about it. That’s all anybody knew about it. Though now, after having seen the movie I remember hearing something about this movie being about the “bee epidemic” we’re having. It does, but not really. In fact, this movie isn’t about much really. Oh, it tries really, really hard to be about a lot, which is really only summed up in a few lines at the end of the film.

It’s one of those movies where if they had revealed any of the plot in the trailer, nobody would have came to see it. It’s just…it’s so…corny. Goofy. I’m not going to tell you, because, really you have to see it to believe it. What this movie is about. It’s mind bogglingly and unbelievably absurd, and yet, kind of believable. Just enough to make you wonder what’s going to happen next, or what the hell he’s going to pull out of his ass next.

I like Shyamalan. He’s not afraid to step out there and try something different – even with bigger budgets. It’s like a big budget experimental film. But while watching this movie I had a huge mixed reaction. Part of me felt this had to be a joke. The man is smarter than this. He knows better. He’s taking the movies he loved from the 50’s and updating them. Ha-ha what a good time sitting through this movie – we should be having fun. Look how gooey the violence is. Look how hokey the dialogue can be. See how everything happens in the daytime like The Birds. It’s supposed to make it all seem that much more unsettling. (But if you look at any photos of M. Knight on set…he’s never having fun…ever.)

The second feeling I felt was, what the hell has happened to Shyamalan? Has he lost his mind completely? Speaking of the violence, it’s not shocking, or bold, but casual. The violence is casual. And it’s supposed to give it a creepy edge, and I can see that it might look good on paper (after all most violence that happens in the world is casual) or even in the imagination, but combined with all of the other elements, I ended up watching… befuddled. Wondering what I should be feeling at any given moment in time. Wondering what exactly went wrong with this film and at what point. And not being able to place a finger on it.

The idea seemed to make sense…too a point. The dialogue was cute…here and there. The direction was effective…on occasion. The absurdity was enjoyable…kinda. The movie was logical…briefly. There was no twist…certainly. M. Knight did not act in it…definitely. But none of these positive elements seemed to happen at the same time. They were spread out enough so that at no point did I feel the movie is good, but you still can’t help but not hate it. A guilty pleasure, perhaps? A movie that’s so bad it’s incredible…I don’t know!

Finally at about 3/4 of the way into the film something really strange and bizarre happens. It concerns an old lady who’s lived by herself for a long time. These few scenes are the most frightening and unsettling of the movie…and they have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film!!! Nothing!!!! It makes no sense. I’m not frustrated. I’m completely and utterly confused.

This old lady freaked the heck out of me. Why didn’t he make a movie about this old lady…it would have been awesome. Psycho x2. Instead Shyamalan is more interested in creating a modern day version of the birds…without the birds…without any sort of physical manifestation of what’s attacking them. It’s like the mise en scene of the movie becomes the bad guy…the villain. Oh, watch out everyone or the atmosphere will get us! If he had started the film with the three characters we end up with coming upon the house and ending up having to deal with the outside and inside, that would have been a good way to tell the story. See! The movie is a great premise waiting for the proper story to tell it in.

M. Knight is an incredibly talented director. He’s able to use Hitchcock’s methods and make them his own. He just has to stop, I don’t know, trying so hard to prove himself. He has to leave his ego at the door and take a script note or two. I love the believably stilted way his characters can interact. Mark Whalberg has a great moment in which he cleverly tells his wife, Zooey Deschanel it’s no big deal…but even these moments are starting to feel plugged in and unnatural to the rest of the script. I applaud M. Knight and stay confident that he will make another great movie, but he has to break free from what he’s been doing. Even Hitchcock tried mixing it up with dramas and comedies…written by other screenwriters.

***Spoilers***

I’m going to give away a bit of what the movies about. A few years back I saw a B-Movie from Japan called Suicide Club. I had just seen Battle Royale, which was awesome, and wanted to continue expanding my horizons. Suicide Club is about a group of school kids that get together and for no apparent reason commit suicide and it sets off a whole chain reaction of casual suicides across Tokyo (or where ever it was). Something tells me that Shyamalan didn’t see this movie…because he would have known his idea wouldn’t have worked. There’s something about casual suicide that, while on paper seems disturbing (it must!), but on film it feels corny.

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9 Responses to ““The Happening”: Even if you don’t see the movie…read this review!”

  1. tasithoughts Says:

    Everyone that has seen this movie has told me to spend my money elsewhere.

  2. Phillip Says:

    They are probably correct in the assertions. Only the curious will now go see this movie – and should.

  3. Andrew Says:

    I gave up on Suicide Club halfway through. The only thing it had going for it was the casual suicide. Was there a plot?

  4. Phillip Kelly Says:

    No there was no plot in “Suicide Club”…I remember it kind of dealing with a cop who had a family. It was certainly trying to be about something…how fads take over and destroy people’s sensibilities. Kind of a satire. But like I said, casual suicide…doesn’t work. And with no story, yeah, kinda sucky.

    “The Happening” has a kind of story, or an event that pushes things forward. The event is more an idea though, or as I state in my review above, the event is no more than “atmosphere”. And when something interesting finally does happen, it has nothing to do with the story that’s been set up!

  5. Trying to find meaning in “The Happening” « Phil-zine! Says:

    […] Why write so much about a movie that probably doesn’t deserve it, because lessons can be learned more from a film that’s lacking that something than by one that’s got everything. Jim Emerson has an interesting write up at his blog Scanners, with a lot of nice comments in return. This was my comment to him, and my own way of continuing to work out what worked and didn’t work in Shyamalan’s new film The Happening. If you want to read my original post, here. […]

  6. Andrew Says:

    I think casual suicide could work. Some of the scenes in Suicide Club were truly disturbing … the worst being the school roof, where three students are left on the ledge after their school chums jumped. The question is, how to relate that horror to an actual storyline>

  7. Phillip Says:

    Andrew,

    It’s interesting, and maybe could be. The problem is once the suicides begin to relate to a specific story or character arch, they no longer become casual. Certainly the first or second time it happens in “Suicide Club” it’s kind of awful to watch, but after a while, as it becomes in “The Happening” the effect is lost. Not sure how far you made it into “Suicide” but there’s a point in which a woman is chopping vegetables and she begins to non-nonchalantly slice up her hand. It was an awkward moment, neither frightening or humorous. Just there.

    One thing Shyamalan does to keep even the suicides of people we are following casual is to shoot them from a distant. We can do nothing, we can’t even become involved emotionally, because it’s so far away. It’s great direction, but at times I couldn’t help but find the matter a little humorous. When the third guy fell from the rooftop, I chuckled a little. I don’t know if that was the reaction he was going for.

  8. k4s Says:

    saw this the other night and couldnt help but thinking that this was a statement movie. i dont think the acting was bad because mark wahlberg is a bad actor or that the movie was corny because it had a bad storyline. anyone else notice how stupid shyamalan made the military guy look? i also dont think this was a global warming or save the bees kind of nature movie either. just cant bring myself to believe that shyamalan would make a movie this stupid. not sure what his hidden meaning is so i figured id make this post and see if someone can point me in a new direction.

  9. Issildur Says:

    Shyamalan does act! Check the credits. He plays Joey. First mobile cameo ever =)

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