Monday, June 23, 2008

The Happening

There are artists who earn your trust. You know you just have to buy the next thing they put out. Right off the shelves. Without hearing a single, seeing a trailer, or hearing any word of mouth. You maybe don't feel the need to line up at the doors 36 hours before the the CD/tickets/book goes on sale, but you will be there pretty quick. M. Night Shyamalan is that way for me. Maybe not anymore. We'll see.

Maybe the man who made such amazing films as Signs, The Village, Sixth Sense, and Unbreakable just ran out of gas. I don't know what it was, but The Happening did not live up to expectations. Like Lady in the Water before it, it was just kind of a dud. However, at least Lady still had some acting and storytelling and cinematography to go for it. This had none of that. It was like a TV movie, really.

The cinematography was boring. Grass and trees everywhere. And wind. That's it. There's your bad guy. Thing is, that's kind of a cool idea. An invisible and completely natural villain. Imagine you step outside after the movie and the wind blows in the trees above and you get a chill, expecting any moment to be dead---that would be something. If anyone could pull it off and make it scary it would be M. Night. But he didn't.

The music didn't help. It just wasn't the stuff of his past works. Not once do I recall being captivated. Past soundtracks held me in their icy grip from start to finish, and hours afterward.

The acting was nominal at best. A film like this needs good casting, but there was really only one "extra" (the military guy) who I felt did a better job than I would have done. The supporting cast was alright. The lady who played Mrs. Jones was phenomenal, and gave the movie its only bright spot. What a great bunch of scenes at her house. Literally made the night for me. The main actors fizzled. I like Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, but they just lacked spark. I didn't care. And usually M. Night does such a good job getting child actors to be convincing, but the kid in this one was like a next door neighbour reading a book--cute and all, but not something I care to watch for very long.

When we got home from watching this one, our sitter had The Village on. We sat and watched the rest of it and remembered why M. Night is so great. The color, the story, the acting, the filming, the extras---it is a stunning picture. This film is so inferior to that one it is perplexing.

Even stuff that M. Night used to do well was done poorly here. The long agonizing close up on the person before you see what is behind or above them---if done right it is gripping, if done poorly it is just frustrating. In The Happening's first act, when people are falling from the roof, I'm sorry but, dude, you gotta look up a lot sooner. People are falling from the sky! The realism decreases exponentially when you keep on looking around at the ground confused. We realize pretty quick that the director is toying with us, and when he sacrifices common sense to do so, we just don't like it. The story begins to feel stupid.

I realize most of my criticisms come from comparing this film to M. Night's past flicks. Maybe he set himself up for a few letdowns. It does cause one to wonder what M. Night is up to. The best theory I've heard, over at Watch It Movies, is that he's not concerned with a wide audience anymore and is just doing what he wants and depending on his cult fan base. I don't know, I say get a team around you that will keep you up to your standards.

Whatever happened with The Happening, I hope it doesn't happen again. There are glimmers of hope, though. The plot-line was a good idea (but what happened to the bees? Why didn't that play a bigger role?), and there were some good scenes (everything with Mrs. Jones). To be honest, I still look forward to his next stuff. But I must admit it is kind of sad when a favourite artist loses a bit of that favour.

Still, we'll always have Signs. And a night at The Happening is still better than 75% of the movies out there. So let's keep perspective. Don't anyone panic. I'm sure it won't happen again. One good thing about this movie is that I think it made me like Lady in the Water a bit more.


Philbert said...

I was very disappointed with this movie. I really wanted to like it; I really liked his past movies. even the ones the critics didn't; for example "The Village" or even "The Lady in the Water". But I finally had to admit that it was no good.

Tony Tanti said...

I actually liked The Happening as you know, but I didn't love it, and my enjoyment of it was marginal.

Interesting that you loved the Mrs. Jones scenes so much, to me that part of the movie was totally distracting because even though it was done well it just didn't fit with anything else and I didn't find out nearly enough about her. That could have been a good movie all on its own, family gets lost, has to stay with weird lady etc... Kind of Miseryesque.

Anyway, I still wonder what he might have been able to do with more money for this one. Will anyone fund his movies now if they wouldn't before? My last comment at Watch It shows my latest theory, hollywood racism has caused him to get less funding for his last two movies which have caused them to suffer visually.

jeff said...

I don't know Dave, lack of funding does not begin to describe what wrong in this movie for me.

I agree with a lot of what you said here Jon. Except, don't you think those scene's with Mrs. Jones were a little out of place? It felt like a random sequence of creepy events that didn't add anything to the movie except cheap thrills.

jon said...

yeah, mrs. jones was out of place, but that's exactly what the film needed at that point. it was so old and boring. finally there was something interesting going on!

jon said...

i didn't realize his funding was dropping. it would be insane if he was unable to make first rate movies though. i hesitate to think it is racism. that would be a shame. isn't he kind of a lone ranger? i have no idea. maybe he just doesn't hobnob with the right people. i could sympathize with that.

jeff is right though, the lack of funds does not explain all the problems here, unless he's trying to tank it so they'll realize he needs to spend money to make money.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

I've had a long and harmonious relationship with Mr. Shyamalan. Those first three films were excellent. However, after The Happening I've decided that it's time for us to split up. There is no excuse for making a picture that terrible. I feel genuinely betrayed.

Tony Tanti said...

Maybe it's just that I've seen so many terrible movies lately (see my post with short reviews of movies on the plane) it's hard for me to hear this movie called terrible. It wasn't brilliant by any stretch and it wasn't as engaging as some of his other work, but I enjoyed moments. Let me state some moments I thought were good to see if I'm out to lunch here:

The early scenes of people being affected were really creepy to me. The whole emotionless way they were committing such an emotional act worked for my viewing experience. The girl shoving the hair thing into her neck slowly, the copy shooting himself, the bodies hitting the ground, the people hung in trees later on who had clearly made great effort to hand themselves. I just don't see how these scenes are terrible filmmaking.

What was terrible was the attempt at making blowing grass scary, that missed the mark. The lion eating the Zoo employee was one of the lamer movie scenes I've witnessed. It was almost as poorly done as all of 10,000 BC.

There ya go, just some thoughts. I'll post these over at Watch It too.

jon said...

i like matthew's extremism (and jeff's over at Watch It) but agree with tanti. considering i can sit through entire comedies and not laugh once and people out there for some reason give them good ratings, i have to at least say this movie was okay.

i wasn't as into the emotionlessness of those first few scenes. the zombie thing didn't work for me. i think the falling from the building would have worked if not for the commercials. the landscapers hanging was a very eerie scene very well done. and all of mrs. jones. so it wasn't a total loss.

i'd forgotten about the lion tamer. oh my. that and the grass blowing. that's not a tv movie, that's Youtube quality.