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M. Night’s HAPPENING Tonight, And You Guys Are Weighing In!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Not sure if they’re screening this for the Austin crew or not, but I’m going to pay to see it at the midnight show in Woodland Hills so I can review it tomorrow night. Fox has been screening it a bit, though, and several of you have sent us reviews now, so it’s time to do a round-up of several of the best for you, with reactions all over the map. Here’s Latauro with his take on things to kick us off:

I used to say that M. Night Shyamalan should be president of his own fan club. A recent interview in an Australian magazine changed my mind on this. I think he's overqualified for the job. He's got a lot of chutzpah to keep talking about how great he is, especially given that he gets louder the worse his films get. I don't have any hate for the man, mind you. In fact, I've long been in his corner. I loved SIXTH SENSE and I loved UNBREAKABLE, and I was, for a short time, a SIGNS apologist. Then THE VILLAGE happened. I maintained that even though his scripts were getting worse, his direction was improving. In some ways, his filmmaking skills were improving with every outing. I continued this line with LADY IN THE WATER, even though his directing hadn't really improved since the last film. That didn't bother me much, though. It has a narrative to maintain, and that narrative involved searching for redemption within a career that was self-imploding. THE HAPPENING destroys all this. It is by far the worst MNS film to date, as the direction has gone the way of the scriptwriting. I know it sounds like I'm reveling what is clearly about to be an evisceration, but I think he's got a lot of talent and I really hate having to talk about yet another failure in a long line of failures. God, I really hate it... but I gotta be honest. Mark Wahlberg plays a science teacher. We know this because he keeps saying "science" and "scientific" a lot, words that are said a lot in films by characters who don't sound anything like scientists. His best friend, John Leguizamo, is a maths teacher. We know this because he keeps saying "math" and "statistics" a lot. He also uses mathematical riddles at inappropriate times, because he is Maths Guy, and this script is full of lazy shorthand. Wahlberg struggles through dialogue ranging from supposedly complex scientific formula to "Oh no!". This is not the Wahlberg from THE DEPARTED. This is the Wahlberg from THE PERFECT STORM, hopelessly at the mercy of his script and director. Here, he plays a character we are completely unable to connect with. You know how MNS's previous characters (Willis in SIXTH SENSE, Willis in UNBREAKABLE, Giamatti in LADY IN THE WATER) were inaccessible, and that was the point of the character? It now seems as if he's just unable to write actual characters that we can feel emotion for. Or perhaps it was just a poor marriage of material and actor. I don't know. All I know is that Wahlberg's stiltedness is overshadowed only by Zooey Deschenal's stiltedness. Deschanel plays a character who is actually supposed to be stilted, and she clearly does a very good job at following the direction she's given, and, not surprisingly, it's the direction I'm calling into question. She's a muddle of a character, who seems to suggest she has an arc in there somewhere, even though we can't quite see it. This film wants very badly to be WAR OF THE WORLDS, but misses every mark that WOTW hit. The "scares" are more comical than frightening, the characters are, without exception, unlikable, and the whole central idea of "It's the plants!" never progresses beyond the silliness it suggests. (For the record, I think "it's the plants!" could have been cool, but just isn't. The only way it could have been more ridiculous is if he'd had a talkbacker yelling "Plant!" a lot. Yes, go on, you know you want to.) When greeted with a massive success so early on, I've noticed a lot of filmmakers begin to believe their own hype. MNS's fingers-in-ears approach to criticism seems to fuel this. A part of me believes this is the last film both written and directed by him that we'll see for a very long time, maybe forever. And yes, I'm reading the AIRBENDER stories alongside everyone else, but I can't picture anyone giving him a budget after this film. Funnily enough, I actually think this is designed as a slow-burn comeback film. From the way he approaches the subject matter, it seems as if he really believes this -- or something very similar -- will happen within the next few years. It feels a little like it's supposed to eventually be a "See? He was right all along!" forcing us to re-evaluate our opinions on the man. (Of course, most of us will be walking backwards and committing suicide at this point, so it hardly matters.) Then, presumably, that will force us to re-evaluate his prediction from LADY IN THE WALKER: that he will one day be considered a man with world-changing talent. It's speculation, of course, but if I'm right, it makes this utter disaster of a film even sadder than it was to sit through. Peace out, Latauro

Yeeeesh. So far, I’ve seen some radically different reactions to this. Jeff Wells compared it to THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, while David Poland said it felt like watching someone’s career end before your eyes. Let’s take another reader review, this one from a new semi-frequent overseas contributor, TheNorthlander:

Hey guys, The Northlander here. Thought I'd send in my thoughts on M. Night Shyamalan's THE HAPPENING. Now, Night is a guy I despite myself have immense respect for as a filmmaker. When I first saw THE SIXTH SENSE in theaters I was blown away by it and wanted to immediately go back into the theater and rewatch it again. I love that film. I love the way it makes you think it's a Supernatural Thriller/Psychological Horror while it really is a touching Drama but you don't see it before the second viewing. I've heard somewhere that it wasn't until like the 18th or something draft of the screenplay that it was even decided that Bruce Willis' character would be... you know. I can't help to think that Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, perhaps the most brilliant producer team of the past 25 years, had something to do with THE SIXTH SENSE's amazingness though. I wish they'd have kept working with Night. UNBREAKABLE... I understand why comic book geeks like it, and it deserves its spot in my DVD collection. Still, I've always felt like the problem with UNBREAKABLE is the same as the problem with every movie Night has made since SENSE; they're Gimmick Movies, and kinda pretentious. But you all know this, you've seen them for yourselves, and the question on everybody's mind is: Is THE HAPPENING a change in this trend? Well. It's not that bad. This is not THE VILLAGE. I haven't seen LADY IN THE WATER, it's the only one I haven't, but from what I've heard of it I don't think it's that either. It feels related to SIGNS in a lot of ways, and could be thought of as a companion piece. But I've always thought SIGNS failed where it tried to tell a story about a priest who lost faith but regained it through finding evidence of God's existance. That, if you think about it, really doesn't make any sense if the whole point of faith is to believe and not to know. THE HAPPENING doesn't make that mistake. Like SIGNS, you can really get a sense of NIght's personal beliefs filter through the characters' dialogue and the theme of the story. In this case though it's more his idea about people instead of religion. I can't say I always share his beliefs on a personal level but I respect the man for trying to say something with a story. The guy is a storyteller, no doubt. In THE HAPPENING, like with SIGNS, if you share his faith you'll probably like the story more and that's kind of the problem. I don't mind films that explore a religious belief I don't share personally, but a story like that needs to invite the rest of the world. It could be a Han Solo character, a sceptic who says what the non-believers think, or it could be anything really to counterpoint the preaching. SIGNS didn't do that properly for me, but THE HAPPENING sort of did, I think. So, in short, that's why I think it succeeds where SIGNS didn't. *** SPOILER BELOW *** There's a point towards the end where the news broadcaster interviews some scientest who explains to the public what's been going on, and he says he thinks the reason this only happens in the northeast is because it's just the first sign of something larger to come. The interviewer cuts him off and says, if it was happening globally he might feel inclined to believe him, but since it was only in the northeast of the US he thinks the government is behind it or something. Like he makes up excuses for himself to not have to believe the end is coming. Shuts his eyes to it, sort of. There are a few scenes like that in the film that speaks directly to the viewer, and that feel like Night's commentary on the human race and how we think. They're not completely on the nose, and in a way they sort of make the story more interesting in a Rod Serling kind of way and that's cool. I like that. There are also at least one scene that's really suspenseful, the one I'm thinking about is where the fruit cup lady goes bananas. That was cool. There are also a lot of shortcomings, like it's not really graphic enough sometimes. You see a harvester roll over a guy and there's not a drop of blood. This is the same movie where a dude shoots himself in the forehead, drops to the ground, and after a few seconds there's a beautifully gross squirt from the hole in his head. Then a pause. Then one last squirt. That was nice. The harvester... should have been more graphic or shouldn't have been there at all maybe. But that's my opinion. That's about it. *** END SPOILER *** To summarize: Night Shyamalan is a really good director. I know that. He should just do something other than what he's doing, that's all. Maybe he should direct someone else's screenplay. Maybe he should save his own stories and write them as novels instead, or let someone else shoot them. Maybe he should get Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy to work with him again. Maybe he should re-write his screenplays 18 more times before shooting them and find that special thing to change and flip the story on its head. Maybe, they should let him make a miniseries or some Twin Peaks thing instead of feature films. THE HAPPENING is an okay film, but as okay as it is, it still runs on the same gimmick as his other stuff, and after almost ten years I think it's safe to say that whatever it is he's trying to do - it's not working. Unless you feel "okay" is good enough. Like I said in the beginning of this, I do have immense respect for M. Night Shyamalan as a filmmaker and I KNOW that he can do better than this. He's just trying so damn hard to be really good that he forgets to be entertaining and interesting so his movies come off feeling kinda pretentious unfortunately. THE HAPPENING, as "Not That Bad" as it is, it's not that awesomely great either exactly. Go see THE MIST instead. Well, that's about it. Oh yeah - and Wahlberg isn't as bad as is rumored all the time, but John Leguizamo is fucking brilliant all the way through. I don't think I've seen him pull off a performance that well before. Until next time, this is TheNorthlander wondering if the plant monster thing from THE THING FROM ANOTHER PLANET is related to the Audrey plant. It's nature so we'll never know...

And now one of TheNorthlander’s fellow countrymen with his take on the film:

Hi Harry and the AICN crew – I just got home from watching Shyamalan's "The Happening" on its release here in Sweden, and I understand it comes out on Friday in the US and most other places. So, I thought I'd send you a review in case you want to run it. I went into this film thinking, based on the trailers, that whatever happens, however bad or good it is, at least it'll be interesting. I'll cut to the chase: I thought it was OK. The best thing about the film is the idea, and the worst thing is some of the execution. The best ranges from mediocre to awkward to beautiful to great. The film's opening 10 minutes are just like Harry described in his script review a while back. Brutal, fast, and nasty. A great opening. We are in the middle of what people think is a terrorist attack, and people are dying (killing themselves) everywhere. The most difficult part of the film for me were the next 20-30 minutes. The setting up of the characters is the weakest part of the whole film, and it doesn't do uneven actors like Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel any favors. That whole segment seemed very stilted, very controlled. What works in a quiet film like Unbreakable or Sixth Sense doesn't work here at all, because you can feel the words being scripted, the actors being moved around. Basically, I became aware of Shyamalan's hand forcing information upon me, and honestly I was hoping it would get better. And it does to some degree. There will be many that disagree, but I got accustomed to Wahlberg's odd characterization after a while, and both he and Deschanel became real characters halfway through the movie. Overall, though, this movie will get criticized for its acting, and it's unfortunate because I don't think it's the actors who are to blame here. John Leguizamo is the best of the bunch but that's not saying much. So what worked? Well, as I mentioned, the opening, and James Newton-Howard's score is poetically fatalistic, but with that streak of romance. There are some really effective disturbing scenes, and my favorite part of the movie is in the last third of the film. It's probably the most out of place part of the story, but it gripped me. There was some nice and thoughtful symbolism, but in general, I wouldn't call it a scary or a frightening film. The biggest problem, from a popcorn-munching audience point of view, is that it's what I would call a 'message' film that constantly has its message posted on the screen. The personal story in "The Happening" isn't strong enough or engaging enough to begin with, so it takes a lot of effort to get invested in the movie (despite the 'shock' opening). The "what if this happened" part of the film worked well, but the story of Mark and Zooey, the glue that's supposed to bind the movie together and make the message seem something inevitable, was awkward. It seemed rehearsed. But I do want to stress that there are some beautiful and some funny scenes, along with the disturbing ones and the occasional jump scare, and while they held my attention from the half hour mark until the end, they're not enough to make me feel like it's a movie that desperately needs to be seen again. Actually, thinking about it, it almost feels like a Paul Greengrass 'Bourne' or 'United 93' (more visceral) approach might have suited the script better. At least in the human story aspect. I don't want to give away any spoilers, and I don't think I've mentioned anything that's not in the trailers (which, I was happy to see, have taken most of the memorable shots from the beginning of the film). I don't know how I've come across in my ramblings, but regardless, I came away from the movie satisfied, but far from wowed. We have high expectations when it comes to M. Night Shyamalan's movies (and he plays his part in hyping them up) but if this would have been his first film, I think we would be looking at it very differently. We might even think it's a great little art/independent sci-fi suspense film. And like I mentioned in the beginning, I thought it was interesting, and fairly entertaining. But seeing as how reviews are always intensely subjective, it's a film I'd recommend anyone to watch at some point, but don't go out of your way to see it now. Maybe catch a matinée. Something where you don't feel like you've wasted a ton of money, because I do have a sneaking suspicion that this movie will have fewer defenders than 'Signs' and 'The Village'. It's a far cry from perfect, and falls short of good. But I hope you enjoy it anyway. I did. - H

I hate the disappointed tone in so many of these reviews. That’s such a drag. There’s nothing worse than reading the reaction of someone who really wanted to like a film, but just didn’t. That sort of heartbreak is becoming Shyamalan’s specialty, which is verrrry dangerous for a filmmaker. Check this one:

Hi there,I don't know if you've received tons of these already, but if its of any use - feel free to publish this on your site. So I saw The Happening recently. First, let me state I am a fan of M. Night's work. I thought Unbreakable was his best (and is one of my fave movies altogether), Sixth Sense was great, The Signs were very good and the Village and Lady in the water were flawed but interesting and enjoyable.Anyway, that is not important. Important is that The Happening is like it could've been made by anyone else but M. Night. If one was to disregard the mystery opening and the trailers, which are, granted, quite Shymalanian, the movie itself just... isn't. The inspired and innovative shots - are gone. Everything is directed by the book, like it could've been done by anyone. Acting, which was perhaps never THE best aspect of Shymalan's movies but was always decent - here is truly awful. Very early on it gets evident acting is just way... something. Over the top, too weird, take a pick. That includes Mark Wahlberg who is, in reality, a decent actor. But here i seriously expected to see an explanation in the movie itself - why does everyone act so ...a bit off. That maybe bad acting is a part of the premise of the movie. But it is not.Maybe it's the dialogues, as there's a lot of cringe worthy lazy ass copouts and just lazy writing lines... A LOT of them. Much more than in other Shymalan's movies. As if he was writing it to get it over with. There's john Leguizamo's characther which is almost superfluous to the whole thing, they really could've went with a complete unknown for that role. And then...there's the conceptual level of the screenplay. You know how in most movies there's the three act structure to the screenplay? The setup, the confrontation and the problem? Well, here it's more like we get the setup... and then the movie ends. That's it. Characters don't get involved in anything. They just go stuff happens around them... they're unimportant, faceless, they're not part of even the smallest bit of the plot. And while that might be cool in some movies, here you don't get anything else but the already very weak plot. There's very, very little to hang onto here.On top of everything, production values are visibly lower this time around. While before Shymalan's movies could boast some nice images, expensive settings etc - the happening looks as if it was shot for a fraction of the budget Signs were made with. 90% of the movie we have people travelling on the road or in the fields... plus Wahlberg isn't what you might call an A list 20 million per play actor. Anyway, there's very little to recommend here. I guess some of the most hardcore Shymalan's fans might be pleased but this time he went too far. I just didn't see any passion of his in this movie. Did someone put a gun to his head to make this? Kind regards, John Doe, Jr.
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