The Happening (2008) Jun 12, 2013 14:21:52 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 12, 2013 14:21:52 GMT -5
Ashlyn Sanchez, John Leguizamo, and Mark Wahlberg.
M. Night Shyamalan is the anomaly of film directors. He succeeds at the harder, more forgotten aspects of film but fails to deliver on the basic necessities to get one of his stories across as likable. I feel that the man is on his own planet, where criticism is conveniently nestled under a bed sheet and he is free to have his work play out the way he feels is necessary. This is admirable and detrimental to his career as a director. One wants to not let detractors of their work get the best of them, but one also doesn't want to live in a bubble and ultimately become self-pleasing.
If this film is self pleasing to Shyamalan, then it doesn't take much to please the man at all. The Happening is a dull science-fiction film on many levels, failing to emphasize the greater good that could come from a premise like this with some of the most tedious cinematic tendencies in many a moon. At times dreadfully boring, and at others, tricky and questionable, this is a mediocre effort by a director who seriously needs to get his act together if he wants to be even mentioned in the same breath as his apparent idol, Alfred Hitchcock.
The story centers around a mysterious toxin that has been released in the air that causes people to become delusional, disoriented, and eventually suicidal. It first is detected in Central Park, when people begin to freeze in place and eventually kill themselves, before spreading to other areas of the Northeast in no time. Believed to be a terrorist attack or even caused by the government, people look for shelter in neighboring states that soon fall prey to the toxin. The story four people at the core of this are high school teacher Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), his fragile wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), his friend, Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian's young daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), who escape New York City to travel on a train to Pennsylvania. They are soon stranded in rural Pennsylvania, trying to piece together what the toxin is and how it arrived on Earth.
The consensus is the toxin is released by plants, including trees, grass, bushes, and other pieces of the wilderness in an act to rebel against human involvement with the mass deterioration of the environment. It is said that at any given time plants can rapidly evolve and communicate with each other to release this mysterious substance that works to try and eliminate humans. This brings me to my first question; how can plants suddenly speed up their evolutionary cycle to plot against human forces? Doesn't that contradict the longstanding theory of evolution, which takes thousands of years to occur and form a notable change? Furthermore, plants can communicate to other plants, yes, but can they do so in conscious, conversational manner? Could they exchange personal thoughts? Are they self-aware and aware of their destruction? Science-fiction that takes place on other planets and worlds is easier to comprehend.
No bother, though. There are plenty of other things to criticize and logic isn't one of them. Acting isn't something I'm always compelled to critique in films, for it doesn't take too much for me to believe something if the characters aren't performing in such a wooden, uncharismatic way. However, the acting in The Happening is strangely, incomparably offputting, especially considering the likes of Wahlberg and Leguizamo headlining the film. Wahlberg seems to have given the macho-performance too often, because he doesn't seem to have any resonance being victim to a tragedy or a questionable circumstance. Zooey Deschanel, who I always adore watching, is emotionally distant, completely disregarding her exuberant personality she accentuates in every role. Almost nobody here seems to have any clue on how to handle the mass-hysteria and the confusion believably.
But can you blame them? This is a perplexing movie about a perplexing circumstance that, overall, is perplexingly stupid. Shyamalan also offers a predictable stylistic notion (akin to the needless camera-pans in his earlier film Signs) here, this time being static close-ups and long-takes on certain groups of people and objects. The long-takes aren't intolerable and offer a pleasant diversion from the traditional bust/medium shots heavily utilized in mainstream filmmaking. The closeups, however, are and to the extent of being even more offputting than the acting. The closeup shot is used to convey emotion, sentiment, or to emphasize the particular moment in great detail and focus. Moreover, when employed carefully, subtly, and conservatively, can be quite effective. Again, this works best if they are nuanced, for they convey intimacy with the character and provide audiences with the effect of feeling "closer" to the performer, visually and mentally.
Shyamalan employs these shots with a sense of ineptitude, for the lack of a better term. The shots are utilized too often, evoke none of the aforementioned qualities, and are sadly used to capture acting of unprecedented coldness. Not to mention, they're heavily used in a film that understands nothing about character development and intimacy. I've scarcely felt such detachment to lead characters in a science-fiction film than this one.
Returning to the idea that Shyamalan strives to be like Hitchcock in the ways of suspense, tone, and placement, one of the many things he lacks is an assertive direction, feelings of dread, and suspense. Constant shots of flowing wind, idle trees and grass, and the inherent mysteriousness of nature do not convey any kind of convincing suspense. They convey boredom and stiffness in a film. I'm confident Shyamalan has seen his fair share of Hitchcock films, but I don't think he understands that setups only go so far and that explanations and humanity must not be neglected in science-fiction and thrillers.
In summation, The Happening is dull and lifeless much of the time. There are too many unanswered questions, too many half-baked answers, too many caricatures, too much stiffness in acting and suspense, virtually no feelings of sadness or dread, and no sense of depth. I can't help but feel that Shyamalan believes he is delivering quality cinema, when in reality, he's generating laughs, not frights.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, and Ashlyn Sanchez. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan.