The previews for M. Night Shyalaman’s new movie, The Happening are definitely entertaining and piqued the interest of many. Images of bodies falling from the sky as people pitch themselves off tall buildings, people standing eerily still for no reason during an event that no one can explain or name (Hence the title – The Happening). There is no doubt about it. The preview for this movie was tantalizing. And while it would not be the first (or the last) movie about catastrophic events affecting mankind, it offered some promise for the redemption of Shyamalan’s flagging cinematic career. If only he could offer us something we had never seen before, something that made us think like we hadn’t thought before in the span of a tightly told, atmospheric thriller.
Many people wanted this and were even rooting for him. Ever since his debut movie, The Sixth Sense in the nineties, Shyamalan was one of those movie producers who had so much potential. Because of this, many people even tried to hang onto that hope through his many disappointments like The Village and Lady in the Water. I know this because my sister and I were two of those people. In fact, my sister will even forgive the horrendous and nonsensical storytelling of Lady in the Water because Shyamalan is able to create and maintain his signature atmosphere. (I, on the other hand, am less forgiving albeit intrigued with the villain hiding the grass which I name as the only redeeming quality of the movie).
So, we went to The Happening with flinching hope. We wanted him to succeed so badly because we crave his potential movie brilliance and on the other hand, we may not be able to give him another chance if this proved to be yet another turd. I felt ambivalent about this being his first R rated movie – which was highly advertised. On one hand, the R rating allows for more scary content and that could be good for a thriller. On the other hand, if the story is bad no amount of blood and guts will revive it. And, I personally liked the fact that Shyamalan has always worked within the confines of a PG-13 rating because it forced him to be more creative about his scary content. No, you can’t show that much violence but sometimes implied violence with a camera cut away is more scary than any computer graphics or latex can do.
In the end, I won’t tell you too much about the story itself because it is so basic that saying too much would reveal everything (or at least all that is not already told in the previews). But, suffice it to say there is an event that causes people to kill themselves and the protagonists (played by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel with a little girl in tow) in the movie are trying to get away from it.
The best parts of the movie include hilarious hot dog jokes, Zooey’s preternaturally blue eyes, and a moment where Mark Wahlberg finds himself talking to a ficus. Not exactly what one would expect as good parts in a thriller? Exactly. To be fair, the possible concept that Shyamalan is trying to sell is intruiging, but not fully explored enough to make much sense.
While the potential of the story was good, it wasn’t fleshed out enough to really make an impact. And the actors at one point or another all seemed to be reading from teleprompter screens. Although I admit a bias toward Zooey – she seems to have only two acting emotions available to her: blank stare and mild amusement; I have always admired Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo. But even they seemed to never be fully in character, perhaps they themselves disbelieving the banality of the movie they had chosen to partake in. The characters they were playing just didn’t seem to have enough believability or motivation to carry the movie and a lot of the plot transitions seemed forced.
Other things I found difficult to take in this movie was the constant use of gotcha techniques. The music crescendos and something jumps out and BOO! But it isn’t really anything in the end. Over and over again, the audience is lead to believe that they have happened upon some answer but it ends up to really be nothing…until the very end. The lack of build-up and real tension lef the movie even bereft of Shyamalan’s famous atmosphere which was most disappointing to my sister.
In the end, M. Night Shaylaman’s new movie about a strange and eerie event destroying mankind gives us pieces of food for thought but is ultimately a disappointment. And this makes me seriously wonder about my own withering patience for Shyamalan’s future endeavors – if any – which is the biggest disappointment of all.