The Happening - Movie Review
If there's one thing to say about an M. Night Shyamalan movie it's that plausibility is hardly a factor. I can't tell you how many of my friends criticized Sign's for it's water allergic aliens. But let's be honest here people, few viewers questioned incredibly ignorant ghosts as existing, or comic books as being a form of modern hieroglyphics, or villages to be held in complete isolation. So if you're going to watch The Happening, you better be willing to buy into some seriously questionable material.
I give him credit though. Mr. Shyamalan has the uncanny ability to take any movie concept, no matter how absurd it may seem, and be able to play his cards with such pinpoint precision that you manage to suspend your disbelief just long enough to go with it. For a long time I loved M. Night Shyamalan's work. In fact, you would have been hard pressed to find a bigger fan. I thought Signs was powerfully moving, so moving in fact that I saw it twice in a row. Unbreakable is still one of my favorite films of all time. But neither of those films are especially strong in their concept. What they excel at is creating convincing characters, and placing those characters in situations so beyond the extraordinary that they display something uniquely human. Those films, while being entertaining, were intimate.
However, M. Night Shyamalan has been overwhelmed by the concept. His characters have been chewed and swallowed by situations to the point that we can barely hear them scream from within it's stomach. After Signs, his work became about the payoff rather than the substance. This is why we work so hard not to ruin the film's concept or give anything away.
Mark Wahlberg plays Elliot Moore, a science teacher who shares an unusual fascination with the recent honey bee disappearances. His wife Alma, played by Zooey Deschanel, spends her time being emotionally distant. So when groups of people all across the city and the Northern East Coast begin to commit suicide all at the same time, it seems like a perfect opportunity for the couple to flee to a rural romantic getaway.
It would be a great situation had the two characters been given a few scenes to develop a bit. Instead we are treated to tidbits of dialog where Elliot says "Alma doesn't show emotion," and then Alma says, "You know me, I don't show emotion," and the audience says, "I sure hope her not being able to show emotion comes in handy later on in the script as a plot device since they seem so keen on mentioning it numerous times," and then it never does. It's just lazy character interaction, which hardly passes for interaction at all.
I would be willing to say that The Happening is M. Night's most lazily calibrated thriller yet. This is mainly, I believe, for one reason. The Happening has seemed to go out of it's way to have an "R" rating. The cards a thriller like this hold tend to fair better when they keep the audience bluffing. Having a man feed himself to a lion on camera is somehow a lot less scary instead of just hearing his screams. In fact, it's kind of funny. I'm a little bit afraid to say that the most morbid and disturbing scenes in this film somehow struck me as being hilarious.
Every act of on-screen violence has a humorous passiveness to it. It's as though right before the camera's started rolling one character turned to another and said, "You think it would be cool if I turned on this tractor and then laid down in front of it?" while the other character merely replied with a "Well, if you have nothing better to do..."
The final product isn't quite scary, and isn't quite moving, but it is rather charming in it's dedication to it's subject.
That leads to the last question. Is the Happening plausible?
Sure. Why not? It's as plausible as water allergic aliens invading earth, maybe more so. I have no reason not to accept it.
But I think the reaction M. Night Shyamalan incites is the exact opposite from the one he intended. Instead of seeing the forest through the trees, I think we'd all be willing to say "screw the trees" and live in a shed in the middle of the desert.
My point is this, when I stepped out of the Dollar Movie Theater and saw the one, single, isolated palm tree sway in the middle of this concrete paved parkinglot I call LA, I thought, "Well, thank goodness I don't have to worry about THAT problem," and went on my merry way.