Shyamalan's Just Not Happening Anymore

Posted by Andrew Groves | Posted in | Posted on Wednesday, June 18, 2008

WARNING: This review contains material that may spoil the movie for you. If you haven't seen the movie and plan to, stop reading now.

I settled into my seat and tried desperately to quell my excitement during the endless pre-movie ritual known as the previews. After each preview I expected the movie to start, only to be shown another preview. For fifteen minutes this ensued, until I could take it no longer. Finally, the lights dimmed a bit, the theatre grew quiet, and I leaned back in my chair to enjoy M. Night Shyamalan's newest thriller "The Happening."

Now, I wish the previews had never stopped.

"The Happening" suffers on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin. The magic, if you'd like to call it that, is gone. If you've seen some of Shyamalan's earlier films, ("Unbreakable," "Signs," "The Village") you can easily recognize the ethereal, mystical qualities. Shyamalan is known for leading his audience down paths of the unknown, where some questions are answered, but most are not until the very last instant. His previous films have also contained deep character studies that highlight the authenticity of his characters. In "Signs," Graham Hess' grief after the loss of his wife is so... real. When you watch the film, you understand Graham at a much deeper level because you relate to him. Not so in "The Happening," as Elliot Moore (played by Mark Wahlberg) doesn't deal with any major emotional issues at all in the film. With the exception of a few spats with his wife and the typical emotional distress found in disaster scenarios, this film fails to engender any emotional attachment from the audience.

Part of the problem lies in the acting, which is some of the worst I've seen in a summer blockbuster. An actor or actress in a Shyamalan movie is expected to react to supernatural events in a believable or coherent way. In reviewing Shyamalan’s previous movies, we would discover this to be true. But in "The Happening," something went wrong. Elliot Moore (Wahlberg) sounds like a child afraid of the dark. Often, his tone of voice borders more on whining than panic. And his wife, played by Zooey Deschanel, is just plain odd. Her character is as inconsistent as the changing winds that threaten to destroy her family.

Shyamalan's initial concept for the film was to answer this question: "What if nature turned against mankind?" An interesting question. However, his way of answering this question is both gruesome and non-suspenseful. It's like a bad mixture of "I Am Legend" and Spielberg's revamped "War of the Worlds." The film begins in Central Park, as some kind of chemical toxin is rewiring people's brains to kill themselves. We see these suicides throughout the movie, from a girl jabbing a hairpin in her neck, to construction workers leaping off buildings, to a man lying underneath a lawn mower. The gruesome sights are completely gratuitous and only produce disgust for the movie. M. Night Shyamalan's first R-rated movie? I wonder why. In addition, the cause of the manic-inducing toxin is correctly attributed to nature about thirty minutes into the film. There is no race to find out what's really happening, because we've already figured it out. It also feels like Shyamalan takes every opportunity to explain how it’s happening, why it’s happening, and how to escape "The Happening." There are no real twists and turns... just running and hiding in this film.

"The Happening" is also incredibly preachy. The only singular message of the movie I could find is, "You shouldn't pollute because it hurts the environment. After all, the environment might get angry and try to kill you, so watch out!" In a scene where Elliot and friends join up with some strangers to escape the toxin, the background clearly illustrates this message. The kooky strangers own a greenhouse, in contrast to the giant factory smokestack a few miles behind their house. In addition, the movie ends in hopelessness, as we see this event beginning to occur around the world with no feasible solution. You walk away from the movie saying, "Well, that's kind of depressing."

While Shyamalan presented early signs of becoming an unbreakable blockbuster director, in the same village as directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg, my sixth sense is telling me that something peculiar has been happening in his more recent films, beginning with "Lady in the Water." (Read that sentence again...) If "Lady in the Water" signaled the director's departure from what made his previous movies great, then "The Happening" confirms that the old M. Night Shyamalan is gone for good. Apparently, his next movie will be a live-action version of a Nickelodeon cartoon show.

What is happening to M. Night Shyamalan? Maybe he breathed in some of that chemical toxin because it looks like he’s committing career suicide.
RATING: 1 (out of 5)

Comments Posted (1)

  1. I like yours too :) thanks for finding mine ;)