The Happening (4/10)

That’s it, Mr. Shyamalan. We are done. Though you used to be my friend, consider yourself removed from my top eight and blocked on facebook, because I have tried my best to support you consistently and you have consistently not been there for me, have always cluttered up our friendship with your self-indulgent and self-aware episodes where you can’t seem to decide whether you’ll be the next Hitchock, Spielberg, or whatever. I have stuck with you because I believe you’ve shown promise.

Where most people saw, in Unbreakable, a movie that fell far short of the original Sixth Sense, I saw a daring departure from expectations and a willingness to explore new territory. Where most people saw, in The Village, a ponderous and overlong snoozefest, I saw a hearkening back to the glory days of simplistic horror, minimal musical manipulation, minimal gore, and maximum tension. And where most people saw a smug director parading around an idiotic fairy tale in Lady in the Water, I saw some grand flights of imagination and a rather impressively cohesive and engaging story, despite the fact that you put yourself in as the “savior” in your own movie.

And now the day has come (perhaps it was inevitable) where I have to tell you, with my heart almost breaking, of how much you’ve failed me with “The Happening.”

This intro may be a bit melodramatic, but it’s the best way I could find to express my disappointment with Shyamalan’s newest effort, especially because the movie itself is about ten times more melodramatic. I wanted to like The Happening, I really did. I went in, my hopes high, for it looked like Shyamalan was making a return to form after the stylistic departure of Lady in the Water, but the movie just didn’t cut it. And I hate to use the line that every other critic and their mother is gonna use, but here goes: “It’s a funny title for a movie in which nothing really happens.”

The movie opens with a deliciously creepy scene in Central Park in which two women sit on a bench. One of them says to the other, “Oh my God, is that woman screaming? It looks like she’s clawing at her face. Is that blood?” It’s the single scariest moment in the movie, precisely because everything about it, from the camera angles (the woman clawing her face is never shown), to the acting, to the music, to the setting, is chilling you to the bone. And then Shyamalan makes the first mistake of many, and shows the woman’s friend taking a hairpin out of her head and stabbing herself in the neck with it. Too much gore has felled great directors before, and Shyamalan uses way way way way way too much, and he’s damn clumsy at it too.

We soon find out that some kind of event is “happening” (ooooh), and people everywhere are killing themselves for no apparent reason. We meet our protagonist, Elliot Moore, played competently by Mark Wahlberg, and soon we’re off with him on a train that is attempting to escape the “happening” with his wife, Alma Moore (Zooey Deschanel, weirdly radiant as always), and his co-worker, Julian (John Leguizamo in an overtly eccentric, but still lovable role), and his daughter, Jess.

The movie is basically some kind of random “chase” film, with the main characters dashing from place to place as technology and other people increasingly fail them, running away from God-knows-what. For the first twenty or thirty minutes of the film, Shyamalan does a good job of building up tension and effectively using the R-rating (this is his first film that’s been rated R) to maximum scare-effect. After that though, he crash-lands with a deafening blast and careens into sub-horror melodrama.

It begins with a completely pointless scene in which we see a man walk towards a lion in a zoo and extend his arm to the beast. The camera cuts away, we hear a crunch ,and when we cut back one of the man’s arms is missing. Which is all fine and good, but then Shyamalan actually shows a lion rip an arm away, and it falls off like it was attached to a mannequin. It’s not scary, or even particularly gross – it’s just dumbed-down, cheapened “horror,” the kind of thing you would expect from the Saw or Hostel movies but not someone of Shyamalan’s caliber.

It only gets worse from there, as both the gore and melodrama pointlessly increase, building up to a scene that feels like it belongs in another movie, nothing more than Shyamalan flexing his scare-tactic muscles (which, thankfully, are still in good shape) and winking at us, saying, “Hey, see what I can do? I can still make ya jump! Isn’t that cool?”

No. Granted, a good scare is probably the reason most would go to a Shyamalan film, and though this movie does have liberal doses of those, and they’re often used to great effect when the dull blood and gore remains un-involved, the overall story is neither compelling nor interesting enough to drive us. After about half an hour of running, it gets boring, especially because Shyamalan never gives us any tantalizing hints to what’s happening, merely heavy-handed exposition and scenes of gore here, a loud cymbal bang there, and a slow motion unintentionally laugh-out-loud worthy death scene over there. Most people will probably just be laughing at what’s “happening” ,and when the final message is delivered with the tone of a professor lecturing students, I was shaking my head in sadness. Really? THIS is what Shyamalan was building up to? I won’t give it away, but it’s a candidate for some of the worst final five minutes of a movie I’ve ever seen.

Shyamalan, how far you have fallen. When you decide to make a good movie again, one that doesn’t scream so desperately of, “LOOK AT ME! I’M THE NEXT HITCHCOCK!”, then you can give me a call. Until then, I’ll stick with the real Hitchock and not some self-absorbed wannabe.


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