I was dreading rewatching this movie, more so than The Ring. I thought maybe, just maybe, I could just sort of shuffle it away for another time, maybe a year or two down the road. But guys, I think its time to admit it – M. Night Shyamalan’s career is probably officially over.
Now, I’m not talking about The Last Airbender. Only the strong-willed can take on that monstrosity, and I don’t think I could sit through fifteen minutes of it. No, I’m talking about the movie that gave us all a very clear sign that his career was already flying off a cliff – The Happening.
Released in 2008, The Happening starts with people randomly committing suicide all over various cities. Meanwhile Elliot, played by Mark Wahlberg, is teaching high school science and is talking about how the bees have suddenly been disappeared. Why is this scene here? To establish the whole theme of how humanity is destroying the environment. Subtle
But soon people panic and flee the cities. Elliot takes his wife Alma, played by Zoey Deschannel, and his best friend/co-worker Julian, played by John Leguizamo, and Julian’s young daughter Jess. They run to the country-side and watch several people shout nonsense before killing themselves…which is actually incredibly hilarious.
After finally figuring out why people have suddenly decided life is not worth living, and losing John Leguizamo to emo wrist-cutting, everything goes back to normal. In the end, Elliot and Alma, the absolute morons they are, decide to adopt Jess rather than give her to any extended family. It’s the only horrifying part of the movie.
If I could write this review purely on the reaction I had while watching this movie, it would look like this: NO. NO. NO. NO! NO!!! NNOOOOOO! THIS MOVIE IS A PIECE OF SHIT! NO! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? Over and over and over and over again. And here’s why:
Here’s the big spoiler: IT WAS THE PLANTS! They started releasing a neuro-toxin that somehow inhibits the will to survive, so people kill themselves.
Why did they start doing this now? The environment has been in decline for years! And why is the opposite of survival suicide? Shouldn’t it be just being indifferent or careless? Is the will to survive that much stronger than the aversion to pain?
It’s really obvious that Shyamalan had no idea what he was doing with this film. It felt like he was trying to make an environmentally conscious movie, a little like Star Trek IV, but without the wit and charm. This movie is about as scary as finding a rotten fruit in your backpack; it’s a little gross but more than anything its annoying. Even the advertising of it was misleading – Shyamalan even went on camera to say that he meant it to be a B-film. If it was a B-film, then why not advertise it in such a way as they did with Grindhouse? Why release during the summer blockbuster season? Or, you know, fess up to the fact that you made a terrible movie and this was the bottom of the barrel for you at the time. And as your fans, in our hearts we knew, the era of Shyamalan was over.
My biggest complaint is the terrible acting on Zoey Deschannel’s part. A weather balloon would be more convincing than she is. When I first saw this movie in theaters (oh yes, I paid to see this terrible, terrible movie), I was in shock. She was horrible – she has as much acting ability as a piece of dry wood. Every time she delivers dialogue, its like sandpaper on your brain. I don’t know if she decided not to act, or if she literally is this terrible (later movies suggest this could be true). I feel like every scene she is in is destroyed the moment she opened her mouth. I never feel good bashing an actor or actress but there is literally no other way to describe how horrible she is.
Mark Wahlberg is not as bad but he’s certainly not good. As the voice of reason for the group, he seems to be lacking any real authority…or common sense. At the very end, he decides that risking his life to go see his wife is worth the potential suicide…why? Why not just wait it out? They had a talking tube between the two places they were stuck in. It’s not romantic, it’s not brave, it’s just plain stupid. Also, I couldn’t help but notice the weird faces he made, like he was trying to act while constipated.
The cinematography is fine, nothing amazing. The suicides I have to say are pretty imaginative, but would have been much creepier if they didn’t spout babble before they died. John Leguizamo is okay, passably bland at the best times and annoying shrill at the worst. The most convincing actress is the little girl, who really just has to run and scream and look sad, but its impressive because none of the adult actors in this movie seem capable of doing this.
I refuse to give this movie a kind rating – it deserves no kindness! It’s horrendous; it was a huge let down back then as it is right now. Shyamalan, your career is dead to me.
Stay tuned, next week I’m going to break away from the norm and discuss a topic that really bugs me – remakes.