04 January, 2009

The Happening

The Happening reinforces my belief that M. Night Shyamalan's greatest weakness is over-preachiness. The Sixth Sense was a great movie, and The Village is probably my personal favorite Night flick. Overlooking the Silvertide tease, I enjoyed Lady In The Water, and I think it works well as a fairy tale - and, I will mention in passing, Bryce Dallas Howard looked particularly good wearing nothing more than a shirt for the majority of that movie. But, the pro-faith conclusion of Signs was a huge disappointment, and the moralistic overtones in The Happening distract from the fun of an apocalyptic thriller.

For example, early in the film, the main character, a science teacher, is teaching his class about a "happening" in which the world's honey bees simply disappeared. He asks various students in the class what they think might be the cause of this anomaly, only to conclude that it was an "act of nature" that we will never fully understand - and that it is important to recognize the limits of our knowledge. Uh-huh. This is not a science teacher speaking. The words may be coming from the actor's mouth, and uttered in his voice, but it is clearly M. Night Shyamalan speaking this passage.

So what is "The Happening"? Well, if you don't mind spoilers, the general idea is this: all of a sudden the plants in the northeast corner of the US have identified mankind as a serious threat to their wellbeing, and have developed a toxin which causes people to proactively kill themselves without remorse. We're talking about an airborne toxin that causes an epidemic of mass suicides here. When you think about the fact that trees are largely responsible for the very oxygen we need to breathe for survival, the idea of such a plant-based attack on humanity is rather frightening, indeed.

And indeed, the concept behind this movie is very interesting. Unfortunately, the execution doesn't quite live up to its potential. The movie is supposedly Night's first R-rated flick - and in fact, without the need to cater to a PG-13 rating, they supposedly went all out to get a "hard" R. And while there are some pretty creepy and gruesome scenes, I don't think overall that it measures up to what an R movie could be. A "hard" R, at least. I mean, Hostel is a hard R. Shyamalan doesn't really seem to me to be a hard R kinda guy. He acts like it in the behind the scenes footage, but let's be realistic. He says he tried to cast "light" actors so that he could be as dark as he wanted with the material, and light actors would keep it from going too far, being too much. He obviously hasn't studied under Edgar Allan Poe. "Every word should serve the overall goal of the story - if it doesn't support that goal, get rid of it" (paraphrase from memory, of a quote I read in elementary school...).

Anyway, I don't mean to rag on M. Night Shyamalan, I like the guy. (Does anyone else think he looks like Jeff Goldblum?). One of the great scenes in The Happening was when the two punk kids got offed. That was definitely one of the more satisfying "offing of dead weight characters" I've seen recently. The one kid gets shot and you're like, omg, is this really happening? This is getting serious. And then the gun barrel goes for the other kid, and you're like, there's no way Night's gonna kill off this kid, too. And then bam! They had it coming.

The old lady at the end was pretty cool at first. She's this loner, living out on a farm in the middle of nowhere, without even electricity. She's totally disconnected from the rest of the world, and she has no concern or interest for it. She could have been this awesome loner character, but Night had to go and make her psychotic. When she ran out into the garden, for a second I thought it would turn out that the "Happening" was all her doing - that she was the one who wanted mankind wiped off the face of the planet, but then she became just another victim of the toxin and I knew it wasn't meant to be.

Alongside the apocalyptic story (with its environmentalist overtones) was the story of the two main characters - a young couple whose marriage is facing some problems. Going through the ordeal, they unsurprisingly reconcile their differences and end up living happily together, after it all. Kind of annoying, yes, but hey, it was fun watching Zooey Deschanel in the somewhat airheaded but sensitive cutie role. And by god, she's got eyes you could just fall into...

And now that I've lost my train of thought, I think that's a perfect place to end this review.

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