The Happening.

As Jasien commented on my Top Ten of 2007, I have a weakness for M. Night Shyamalan movies, so I was eagerly anticipating his latest film, The Happening, which promised something appropriately bizarre and mysterious.

Similar to Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, the film follows on a primary protagonist through a catastrophic event. Instead of Tom Cruise surviving aliens, Mark Wahlberg faces an unknown pandemic that is causing people to kill themselves.

I liked several things about The Happening, most of them Shyamalan-specific. I love the way he shoots films, with long, dramatic takes and extended reactions. These enrapturing skills ratchet up the tension and tug the viewer along. His premises are also clever, expanding simple ideas into bigger stories that impact people on a personal level.

Both skills are present in The Happening, which does have its moments. Normally mundane shots are transformed into moments of dramatic terror, aided by effective music that borders on cheesy. Seeing the reactions of normal people in extreme circumstances is always evocatively fascinating, even if the arc of emotions is somewhat predictable.

But even these great techniques aren't enough to save the movie, which doesn't possess the rich layers present in most of Shyamalan's work. The story may be too simplistic, and the characters are largely one-dimensional, not helped by Shyamalan's style of minimalistic acting. As a microcosm of the entire cast, the usually solid Mark Wahlberg does not exhibit the ability of a Willis or Gibson to subtly create emotions. Without the personal connection, a movie that relies on making that connection fails to intrigue as it should.

In the hands of a different director, The Happening might be considered more of a success, an entertaining movie that really isn't very good. But Shyamalan has set the bar so high for himself, that fair or unfair, the built-in expectations are not met.

Bottom Line: I enjoyed the experience, but the movie simply wasn't very good. 4/5 for likability, 2/5 for quality. 6 of 10 overall, and that's coming from a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan.


B. D. Mooneyham said...

I noticed you changed your ratings of this and the Dark Knight. You dropped Shyamalan and raised Batman. 'Atta boy! Taking a step out and making some bolder ratings about movies. I like it. I'm excited to hear your defense of the 10/10 for Dark Knight. And you still haven't really "explained" your new ratings system, by the way.

B. D. Mooneyham said...

Did you think some of the violence in The Happening was gratuitous?

Prince of Spades said...

I had mixed feelings about the violence. On its own merits, I didn't mind it, but it felt like it belonged in Final Destination 17 instead of being oddly juxtaposed with the simple relationship story that was the backbone of the movie. It wasn't bad, and it was executed well, but it didn't seem to mesh w/ the rest of the story.

Prince of Spades said...

...though perhaps the contrast was the point. Or maybe that's me being optimistic.