Monday, 30 June 2008

Film Review: The Happening

I learnt many things from The Happening: wind only forms in isolated patches and with determination it is possible to run ahead of it; dusty old farmhouses are completely airtight; elderly women own gas masks but the military and police don’t; and M Night Shyamalan has made probably the worst film I’ve ever seen.

Kind of like the opposite of the 1956 sci-fi movie, The Death of Grass, The Happening has an interesting premise: plants have become so pissed off with humans polluting the planet that they are fighting back. Not, as you might expect, by growing legs and arms and throwing boulders at their enemies like the Ents in Lord Of The Rings but by releasing biotoxins into the air that make people kill themselves.

How infected individuals top themselves varies, but – and this is one of the film’s biggest problems – suicide seems to involve the most ridiculous route possible. One man at the zoo strolls into the lion enclosure and allows the lions to rip his arms off, an elderly woman head butts all the walls and windows in her house, and another man runs himself over with a lawnmower. Even when those infected choose more traditional suicide routes like when John Leguizamo slashes his wrists with broken glass, or when Private Auster turns his pistol on himself, it is impossible to take their deaths seriously.

An unseen threat is always a difficult cinematic trick to pull off but it certainly isn’t the fault of James Newton’s Howard’s chilling and nerve-wracking score. The blame lies entirely with Shyamalan’s pathetic script and pitiful direction.

The oft-quoted infinite monkey theorem states that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite amount of typewriters given an infinite amount of time will almost certainly eventually type up the complete works of Shakespeare. And the same is almost true of The Happening. Only one monkey with a lump of shit and a pointy stick would definitely write a better script than this.

The problems listed in the opening paragraph of this review are certainly the most glaring but there are plenty of other examples. With the catastrophe isolated to the north east of America, and with the safe zone just 90 miles west, our heroes decide to drive further east. Having already established that the toxin is mostly likely to affect large groups of people, Mark Wahlberg invites two complete strangers to join him, Zooey Deschanel and the little kid they’ve adopted. Later, in an effort to prove his sanity to the inhabitants of a blockaded house, Wahlberg decides that the best course of action is to start singing Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary.

As for the dialogue, when twenty people shoot themselves to death, all Wahlberg can offer is, “Oh no”. To which Deschanel laughably responds, “What ‘oh no’?” Later, when a teenage boy has been shot in the head at close range, Wahlberg leans over his body, shakes him and says, “I’ll get us out of this nightmare.” And, towards the end of the movie, Betty Buckley’s character mutters this eternally brilliant line, "The world don't care about me. I don't care about it. Now, I suppose I need to invite you to stay.”

The cinematography is just as bad. Not only does Shyamalan use a hammy slow-motion reaction shot of Wahlberg when said teenage boy is murdered, not only are there far too many embarrassing close-ups of trees swaying in the wind that are supposed to be menacing, but there are two scenes in the film where the boom mic is clearly visible.

It’s difficult to conceive how the man responsible for a pair of films as inventive and tense as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable can be capable of making such amateur mistakes but Shyamalan’s fall from grace that began with The Village shows absolutely no signs of stopping. In fact, not since Plan 9 From Outer Space has a film been this incompetently shot and incoherently written.

The Happening isn’t a disaster movie. It’s a disaster.

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