As of 2008, it has been nine years since M. Night Shyamalan made his mark on the thriller genre with his 1999 hit The Sixth Sense. Director/writer Shyamalan proved that he is able to create some intriguing concepts and bring them successfully to the big screen. Unfortunately, from there it has been nothing but downhill for the director. In the years to follow the world witnessed the release of many more of his movies, many sinking without a trace. Signs is the only film of Shyamalan's that is almost on par with The Sixth Sense. Speaking rather forthrightly, Lady in the Water is genuine crap!
So how does The Happening hold up during Shyamalan's pursuit for redemption? Well, after reading the negative response from critics and audiences alike, I was already disappointed in one of Hollywood's most potentially talented directors. Hence, my view of the film was tainted when I walked into that cinema.
The Happening deals with an alarming prospect that is extremely plausible in this current era of humankind. In all honesty, I feel that humans could be in their final act. After populating the planet for so many years and causing gross amounts of pollution, our planet may be fed up with our selfish actions and perhaps is planning to exterminate us. Shyamalan takes this credible, distressing concept and uses it as the foundation for the film's plot. Shyamalan steadily paces the film and uses absorbing cinematography, dialogue, and media reports; letting the indisputable possibility sink into the minds of the audience. After all, we have been treating our planet so appallingly since the beginning of time...what if Mother Nature demands revenge? What would you do if the greenery of the surrounding land started releasing chemicals and toxins to bring about your demise?
The film opens as the event occurs. We are thrown straight into the action as disorientated people begin committing suicide: people stab themselves, workers throw themselves from construction sites, policemen shoot themselves through the head...and no-one has a clue why this is happening. Naturally in today's society the immediate initial thought is that a terrorist attack in unfolding. The cause of the suicides is ascertained to be the result of a dangerous neuro-toxin gas being deployed from an unknown source. The clueless population are ordered to commence the evacuation of all major cities that have been affected.
Cut to a simple school where we are introduced to Elliot Moore (Wahlberg): a teacher who excels in the area of science. The school learns of the neuro-toxin gas outbreak and are forced to evacuate the premises. Elliot leaves his home with estranged wife Alma (Deschanel) as they head for the smaller suburban towns, under the impression that this "terrorist attack" (as the media are calling it) would not be targeting the insignificant parts of the country. But reports of people being affected by the gas begin stretching to smaller towns where people are now fleeing. It soon becomes clear as the body count rises that the odds of a terrorist attack are declining sharply. The central plot branches off into numerous sub-plots as the protagonists rapidly relocate in an attempt at survival.
For those expecting a Shyamalan "twist in the tale", forget about it. There are a few interesting twists as the plot builds, but nothing major that will force you to cover your mouth in shock. There is no twist ending...in fact there is essentially no ending. On the whole, the film feels really incomplete. I felt that everything was wrapped up nicely until the film's final scene that will leave the audience feeling disgruntled and dissatisfied. There are far too many endings as well. At least 5 times there is a fade out...then it just cuts to another scene. The critics and audiences alike are feeding the film nothing but pasting and criticism mainly because of this. I am in the gross minority by saying this, but I liked the ending. The film manages to stay away from the clichés and conventions. People rely too heavily on "feel good" happy endings. If a natural event like this did occur, the chances are minute that it would actually cease. I admire Shyamalan for making a very different and unique horror movie.
I expect that because this film was released during the summer season (the American summer season, that is) people will attend a screening with hopes of seeing something like Iron Man. This film's rating will certainly reflect the maturity one must reach to watch the film. If you're in your early teen years you'll be expecting something eventful and action-packed, I presume. My advice: stick with The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man so I won't have to hear your mindless rambling. In my opinion, Shyamalan's approach of developing a fascinating plot is more intriguing than a clichéd, predictable Marvel action film.
Shyamalan uses captivating shots of the surrounding landscape. His trademark cinematography techniques are disturbingly effective. The director is skilled at creating an atmospheric thriller/horror film. Whenever people are affected by the gas, there is plenty of opportunity for you to scream. I found the suicide scenes to be eerie and unsettling. With Shyamalan being granted permission to make his first film to be classified R by the MPAA, you can expect blood and corpses. But also assume something different and unique: a film that is slow-paced but requires patience. Don't anticipate the typical clichés to surface.
Similar to everything else in the film, the performances are a little different. Mark Wahlberg delivers a unique performance unlike anything we've seen him tackle before. His dialogue delivery reflects the established atmosphere of the movie. Zooey Deschanel and John Leguizamo further support this previously instituted atmosphere. They usually look zoned-out and drained of emotion; however I would expect that this is how people would react if something bizarre like this actually occurred. No-one would have a clue what to do. The film manages to stay away from the conventional riots and looting that would occur in your typical epic thriller. One of my complaints about the film is in the script. Some of the dialogue feels contrived and is occasionally very dumb. Also, we're thrown into the action immediately without developing the characters. Why are we supposed to care about them? With an extra 20 minutes of character development dropped in front of the rest of the movie, the results would have been a lot better. Not to mention almost no chemistry between the leads. Towards the film's conclusion, things get extremely silly as well.
Overall, The Happening is a film that I expected more from. Shyamalan could have done a lot more with the incredible potentiality of the concept as its execution is merely average. I certainly liked it more than some of the critics, probably because I enjoy this genre and admire uniqueness.
At the end of the day, people approach a Shyamalan film expecting scares and a tense atmosphere...but above all looking for something different. On that note, the film delivers. It's slow-paced and not very rewarding in the end, but at least I was entertained and rather enthralled from start to finish. The score by James Newton Howard mixed with spellbinding cinematography is bound to impress. I am very aware that I am in a select minority of praising the film, but I am gladly in that minority. The bottom line: the film delivers an important message that is relevant to current society. It is also suspenseful, atmospheric and eerie. The haters evidently just don't understand the movie.
"There appears to be an event happening..."