Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Happening

If I were to describe M. Night Shyamalan in one word it’s minimalist.

From his works like The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, and now The Happening he showed remarkable control of the story, never showing too much or too little. His pacing is perfect, it’s not boring, in fact it’s presented in a way that you are almost anticipating a monster to always pop out every few minutes.

But monsters never come; he never gives too much detail even at the point of revelation at movie’s end. The air of mystery is always maintained so you either hate it or love it in the end. It can be a ‘wow’ or ‘is that all?’

Shyamalan’s timing remains intact in The Happening. I was worried for a moment that my officemate’s reactions (they borrowed my copy you see) may have spoiled my excitement. Later that night my worries were unfounded as my heart raced surprisingly even with bits and pieces of the story having been casually shouted in my direction that afternoon.

Compared to the others this film may be Shyamalan’s most brutal to the point of it being his first R rated film according the website The story is about a mysterious ‘happening’ spreading throughout the city and subsequently to the entire American northeast. People are dying strangely by their own hands in large numbers and nobody knows why. There is an end of the world feel to it without the mass hysteria.

The cast performed decently in the sense that I find their terror and despair convincing enough. Maybe confusion is more the appropriate word to describe it because the characters are often outside the danger zone; there is more of ‘what’s going on’ than ‘oh my God I’m going to die’. I would have liked a more hysterical crowd considering the situation but after giving it some thought the slow confused atmosphere was more to the director’s style and he pulled it off.

Mark Wahlberg is in the lead playing science teacher Eliot Moore, unconvincingly I might add but only in the sense of being a science teacher. It’s just not him even if the character called for a cool teacher every student could love. Mark seems more of a PE teacher than Science one.

But for the rest of the movie Mark did OK as somewhat of a leader of a small band of refugees that includes his immediate family and friends in wife Alma Moore (Zooey Deschanel), best friend and colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Unfortunately the characters did not have much opportunity to go into any depth because the story is all about the ‘happening’ and surviving it.

So in the end how you like this movie will depend on how you swallow its premise; will you accept hook, line, and sinker the ‘happening’, how it began, progressed, and how it ended. Loving the characters is certainly out of the question.

Personally I have a hard time swallowing the premise. After seeing the movie in its entirety I am at the point when I say ‘is that all?’ Why didn’t the “villains” not go for total annihilation when their attacks are successful and without defense? I think that if such a thing were to happen there should be more people dead including the hero.

While lacking in believability and depth the movie has a relevant story. A crisis of that magnitude is possible in the real world but maybe not in that fashion. The Happening’s message without a doubt needs to be discussed.

M. Night Shyamalan should be credited for trying to bring to light relevant issues. His premise was creative although hard to swallow. His timing remains impeccable still retaining suspense. But unfortunately only his timing remains as he fails in his recent films (this one included) to have all elements working together into one good movie.

Of the Shyamalan’s movies I have listed above that I have seen The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs remain my favorites. I wish I could make it a longer list but I can’t, not with this movie.