Capone loooooovvveeessss M. Night's THE HAPPENING!
Published at: June 21, 2009, 12:43 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey folks. Capone in Chicago here with a stern warning for every one of you. If you buy a ticket to this film, the ass kicking you receive both during and after the movie will be your own damn fault and will probably be self-delivered.
"Is this movie actually being released?" Those were my first words when the lights came up after seeing M. Night Shyamalan's latest, THE HAPPENING. And the question was in no way rhetorical. I truly could not conceive of a world where anyone would allow a film this poorly made to be released. I know that Shyamalan is everybody's favorite punching bag of late; the writer-director had the misfortune of having his first three films (THE SIXTH SENSE; UNBREAKABLE; SIGNS) be very popular and varying degrees of great. How dare he. And while I'm far from a Shyamalan apologist (I liked THE VILLAGE; I tried and failed to appreciate LADY IN THE WATER), I think the man has talent. That being said, the man who made THE HAPPENING is a stranger to me. There's no way this can be the same guy who skillfully creeped me out time and time again with his work. I am truly and without exaggeration baffled by THE HAPPENING in ways that I'll attempt to explain, but I may simply fall forward from exhaustion trying.
The only thing I'd really heard about the flaws in THE HAPPENING before I saw it was that Mark Wahlberg's performance was bad on a legendary scale. And while I question his high-pitched line delivery in a few spots in this movie, Wahlberg fans can rejoice in knowing that it isn't their hero who kills this movie. Nearly every performance is terrible, and I'm a bit shocked that even the always-reliable Zooey Deschanel is acting like she's been struck by a car before the cameras began to roll. One guy I always look forward to seeing, John Leguizamo, has clearly been slipped some sort of tranquilizer. There isn't a single decent performance in the entire film, except may be that of Betty Buckley as an old woman living in home cut off from the rest of the world. Her acting is so off-the-charts gothic that I had to stifle my giggles the entire time she's on the screen.
Mark and Zooey play couple Elliot and Alma Moore, who are going through a rough patch in their still-new marriage. Elliot is a high school science teacher, which comes in handy when he tries to figure out why everyone in the northeastern corner of America is killing themselves, especially those in highly populated areas like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The opening sequences of random citizens suddenly freezing in their tracks and then finding the quickest way to kill themselves are a bit startling at first, but quickly degenerate into silly. The guy who feeds his own arms to zoo lions was my personal favorite. Leguizamo's daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) has been left with the Moores while John goes to look for his missing wife, and they attempt to stay away from the places where these mass suicides are occurring. At first, the media blames the happening on a terrorist attack, but it becomes clear that the problem is spreading too quickly and covering too much ground to be anything other than a natural phenomenon.
The thing that struck me first about the screenplay was how much of it is dedicated to conversations and exposition that do nothing to further the plot or develop the characters. Why is it important that we know about Elliot's marriage troubles? Why do we care whether Leguizamo finds his wife? Why does everyone seem to latch onto one theory about what is killing people without question or other options? Why is Wahlberg talking to a plastic tree? Who is supposed to give a flying fig about a mood ring? The world could potentially be ending, and these idiots just want to fight about how and when they fight. Answer me this, does a film in which the heroes spend the entire film running away from wind sound thrilling? You have no idea.
THE HAPPENING falls apart little by little over the course of its running time, and the fact that the film is being promoted heavily as being Shyamalan's first R-rated movie means absolutely nothing. The rating should be altered to fit the film's profile a little better. Anyone bringing their underage child to this movie should be arrested and charged with 100 different types of child endangerment. Youngsters shouldn't be punished for watching the film; they don't know any better. It's the adults who need a good slap for seeing this dreadful experiment gone wrong. Around the world, critics will be preparing their "Worst of 2008" lists a little early this year. This is the film by which other bad movies will set their standard by. In the not-too-distant future, this is a film that college students will rent, get drunk watching and spend the film's blessedly short 90 minutes mocking it without mercy.
I was never bored watching THE HAPPENING. I was absolutely locked onto what was going on in this film--ever curious what ridiculous, nonsensical plot turn or awful line delivery was up next. It literally feels like the story was made up as it went along, but what's worse is that it lacks the confidence the director has shown us in every other film he's made. It's like he's lost his nerve. So many different drinking games could be born from the dopey shit that goes on in this movie. I mentioned Betty Buckley's off-the-wall performance as "Mrs. Jones," the woman who is completely unaware of the goings on in the rest of the world. In a lot of ways I envied her while watching The Happening. If I lived her life, I would never have known the pain of enduring this half-baked concoction, which may be Shyamalan's treatise about the environment, global warming, loving one another or respecting nature. My guess is that he was aimed for some combination of all of these. Unfortunately, the finished film feels more like the sloppy, chunky afterbirth of a message film from a man who used to impress me as a filmmaker. I truly hope this is as bad as it ever gets from Shyamalan. This is the kind of movie that kills careers; it certainly murdered my spirit for most of a day. It's almost worth seeing just to see how poorly executed every aspect of the work is, but even I'm not that much of a sadist to say that's a reason to watch any movie. I'm done.