The Happening (2008)

JUNE 13, 2008


Those who come to this site because they know me in real life, or because they found it via Bloody-Disgusting, would probably know I interviewed M. Night Shyamalan earlier this week for The Happening. The strange thing was, I hadn't seen the film yet, nor had anyone else, for Fox was only screening it AFTER the interviews had taken place (I couldn't even make that since it was at a ridiculous time: 10am on a weekday). Usually you see the film before, thus allowing you to ask intelligent questions, instead of "So... the trailer's cool...". However, now that I've seen it, I guess it's for the better, as my excitement for the film would have been too diluted from actually SEEING it, and thus the interview would instead have questions like "Seriously dude, what the fuck did you spend 60 million on?"

(NOTE - There are some SPOILERS in the rest of the review, so don't read on if you don't care to know the origin of the titular event. Just know that it's pretty weak and anyone who remembers the film's original title (when he announced it a year or so ago) gives it away anyway. The film as a whole is a step up from Lady in the Water, but still pretty disappointing).

Like The Village, the first half of the film works best. The paranoia is well implemented, the assorted extras who witness various stages of the 'attack' are quite good, and there are some pretty morbid visuals as well. It's also a change for Night - there are no incredibly long shots or scenes in which no one speaks for a minute or so. It's a fast paced story, and the camera/editing reflects it. The problem is our heroes are so bland (and in one case, borderline unlikable) that it becomes a bit of a bore watching them, and only them, deal with what is, sigh, Happening around them. At one point, two of the leads split up, and I was hoping that the film would benefit from this, seeing one group flee while the other (a more interesting character anyway) attempts a rescue of some sort. But the latter is killed off almost as soon as they split apart from the others, and it's back to dullsville (I won't spoil who is who but again, it's not exactly difficult to figure out when you see whose name is above the title).

Another problem is, as usual, Zooey Deschanel. She is ridiculously cute, yes, but she always plays the exact same character - a cold, emotionless introvert. For Christ's sake girl, try a fucking smile once in a while. And since Night's script doesn't give her much to work with anyway, after a while you might wonder why we should even care about her at all. Aren't these the type of people the trees are attacking anyway?

Yes, trees. Our villains are shrubs, grass, etc. Between this, Organizm, and The Ruins, I am considering adding a "Killer Plant" subgenre to my ever expanding list. Though we are spared the sight of a tree literally killing someone with its branches or whatever, we are led to believe that the trees feel that the country is destroying itself, and since they can't move around, they are fighting back the only they can (causing poisonous wind, obviously). In theory it's not really the worst idea ever, but it's a pretty silly concept, and the utter lack of fun to the proceedings (par for the course with Shyamalan) really makes it hard to swallow. If it was a more "fun" film, like your Roland Emmerich types, inane plot points are much easier to accept.

It's the same problem that has plagued Shyamalan for his last 3 films: he simply needs to let someone write his scripts. The concepts are all fine, his direction is great, but the dialogue, structure... other than a few stand alone sequences, they all just fall flat. In Signs, the "small scale apocalypse" concept worked perfectly - the characters were compelling, the motive wasn't really an issue, and since there was an actual PHYSICAL threat to deal with, there were some truly scary/suspenseful scenes. Not so much here, though to be fair there are only a couple attempts at such things (usually it boils down to someone seeing some grass wave around in the wind and then yelling "RUN!" to the others), for the most part it's just the occasional visual meant to give an audience a jolt (such as a road in which everyone has hung themselves from the trees - which doesn't even make sense when you consider who the villain is, but whatever) as opposed to prolonged setpieces.

This could have been his best film in years (I love Sixth Sense and Unbreakable dearly, even now), but his ever-increasing inability to trust others has once again worked against him. For example, his last film, Lady in the Water, was originally a Disney film, like all of his others. But when they told him the script sucked he simply went elsewhere (Warner Bros, who didn't keep him around) rather than allow someone else to take a crack at it. It's a damn shame - his name alone was enough to propel even a rather unsatisfying film like The Village to a huge gross only 4 years ago. But after these last couple, he's in danger of inspiring the exact opposite reaction from an audience. He's a great director, but he keeps betraying his skill by filming lackluster scripts. Hell, he might even fare better directing someone else's shitty script, at least then we can't put the blame solely on him.

On a plus note, his role as an actor in this one is limited to the voice on a phone. At least he figured out one of his weaknesses.

What say you?


  1. See, here's the thing. Everyone seems to have missed something. It's a comedy of course. Could that awful acting, dialogue, hell CONCEPT be anything but intedned for laughs? I have to believe it's a comedy, and as such it is very clever, another great r-rated comedy!

  2. Coming from the only person I know who actually liked 'Lady in the Water', I was so disappointed by this film. 'The Happening' added so much fuel to the fire to all of the M. Night haters. I guess I'm one of them now. The acting is terrible, the dialogue is so awkward and the behavior of the characters is so inexplicable I was stifling laughter instead of being scared. Struggling actresses take heart: all you need to land a leading role is to be photogenic and have big blue eyes like Zooey Deschanel! I agree with the above review in every way: an amazing concept was ruined by a crappy script. Wait for video on this at the least. If you love M. night, stay away!!!

  3. oh I'm saddened by this news...I read somewhere that this movie was supposed to be his way of answering for Lady in the Water and The Village, i.e. going in a whole new direction. I was never a huge fan of his but I always like when directors change up their styles. I'll still probably go see it tonight though...

  4. Thanks for the heads up, BC. Personally, I'm holding out for Dark Knight when it comes to spending dough at the box office this summer.


  5. Saw it last night. Freakin loved it. It's better than so much out there. Just enjoy the ride. The dinner scene with the old lady was one of the best things I have seen in a M Knight film. As you noted BC, all he needs is someone to flesh his brilliant ideas into better structure.

  6. Hey tubaguy, good on you for being able to stifle the laughter...I howled out loud on several occasions.

  7. The question "The Happening" really brings forth is this: Is Shyamalan a bad director? If you review his body of work -- with the exception of "The Sixth Sense" -- the answer is yes.

    Here's my take on his legendary ugly tumble from Hollywood grace:

  8. I waited to read this review till I saw the movie. Bummer! Could have saved 30 bucks. I did like the beginning of the movie. I love the post-apocalyptic movies as much as the next person, but this one was just a let down. Some take world events, politics, social issues and turn them into something great (Night of the Living Dead for example) and then there's this. Sitting in a field and waiting for the poison tree farts to attack? Come on.

  9. Like tubaguy, I was one of the few who liked Lady in the Water and was really hoping this film would put all the M. night haters to rest. Maybe next time.

    I should have known after hearing Mark Wahlberg's whiney line delivery and squinty confused expression in every scene. So bad. Why oh why couldn't they have just followed Leguizamo's character?

    Do you think that the studio had the final cut with this film? It felt like there was so much story missing...or was it just an incomplete script? Sorta looking forward to hearing what M. Night has to say on DVD.

  10. I just watched this recently on TV.

    The idea was good in my opinion, since it basically was based on fact (i.e. trees giving out chemicals) and the fact that it made you kill yourself, well, that was actually an original concept to me (unless there's others out there that I don't know about?)

    Unfortunately, the acting, the dialogue, the freaking body language... One word: Terrible. I felt like throwing the couch pillow I was sitting on at the TV quite a lot of times.

    It could've gone a whole lot better.

    Btw, seriously, the movie had a $60 million budget? WTH?

  11. Clearly not his best movie, but I remember reading an interview with him prior to the movie's release in which he said it was meant to be a high budgeted B-movie. At least it would explain the acting. Also, plants have been shown to be able to communicate through chemicals to fend off dangers to themselves.


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