Monday, June 16, 2008

"The Happening" review, thrice through

Review of
The Happening, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan


Like Shyamalan, but didn't like the movie. Disappointing. Big-time.


I have seen and enjoyed (to varying degrees) every M. Night Shyamalan movie since "Sixth Sense." I even didn't hate "Lady in the Water," which many of his fans admit was a very flawed movie. It was, indeed, flawed — but hey, nobody's perfect. And I'm inclined to like a guy who is hated by so much of Hollywood. Plus, the trailers for "The Happening" made this movie look pretty hot, pretty must-see. So I went opening night, so as not to hear any "spoilers" other than the one I'll mention below.

Sorry to say, the trailers were better, more fast-paced and suspenseful and engaging, than the movie. Just watch them a few times, and call it good.

The movie had moments, and some memorable turns and lines... but oh, heavens, it was so obvious. A happens, and you think, "I bet B will follow." It does. So then when 1 happens, you think more jadedly, "Gee, wonder whether 2 is next." And it is. So by the time alpha pops up, you're groaning, "No no, wait, I know this one, don't tell me — beta!" And sure enough, beta pokes its head through the door and waves at you.

Plus, the leads Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are pretty wooden, and pretty weird, respectively. Plus, I groan at the plot-device, the thing that is... da da da dummmmb... The Happening.

So: predictability, not-great acting, and a groaner of a premise. Sound like fun?

It wasn't, much.

I'm really sorry to say that, too. Wanted to like it. And I am not one who goes to movies to pick them apart. I go to enjoy; I suspend my disbelief. So when a movie forces me to this kind of criticism, well, it's not a good sign.


Okay, you get that I'm going to give away plot-developments in this section, right? Fine.

Oh. My. Lands. The planet is tired of us, and it's trying to kill us, because we're bad! The grass hates us! The bushes, the trees, they want us dead! Old Treebeard and his ents were lightweights; they just hammered orcs. But in this movie, the weeds make all sorts of people jam needles into their necks, and saw their wrists, and lie under lawn-mowers, and feed lions in a really non-Mutual-of-Omaha's-Wild-Kingdomy manner.

"Eco-thriller." Now, that's the one spoilery thing I heard, the only one. It made my heart sink. Someone characterized it as an "eco-thriller" which, to me, is (in these greenomaniacal days) pretty much a contradiction in terms.

How original, eh? An "eco-thriller"! Who would have thought?

Well, everybody, and it's dumb, and it's boring, and unfortunately Shyamalan doesn't bring much of his creative originality to it this time.

In fact, it's almost exactly the same as "Signs," except without people you care that much about, and without cool aliens, and without much humor, and without a happy ending. But it's a massive invasion, told through the eyes of a small group of people, that comes, climaxes, and stops. There y'go.

So this is all told as the planet defending itself against us (what? we're not part of the planet too?), because of course we're bad and all. Heavens, there's so much "green" bombardment that I'm feeling a bit green myself, and not in a tree-huggy way.

So I paid $10 to be lectured on how the planet's going to kill me because I treat it so badly.

And then this morning I read Revelation 16. It's a peek into some pretty horrific events that will take place in the future. These are real eco-disasters. But they're not the planet avenging itself because of Round-up, freon, and SUV's. It's God avenging Himself because of unbelief, rebellion, and sin. Waters turn to blood, fish die, the sun scorches people — and how do people react?
"They did not repent and give him glory" (v. 9b)
"They did not repent of their deeds" (v. 11b)
Now there's a human trait: refusal to face God's truth, and repent. No matter what the miseries, the judgments, the consequences, man will not humble himself, admit the truth about God, and repent.

Does this movie give a peek at how folks will convince themselves that they needn't repent, though? Does it suggest one scenario that fallen man will fabricate, something that will find judgments occasions for deeper rebellion instead of repentance?

Will they just reinterpret these disasters as Mother Gaia's revenge, and will they curse the God of Jesus Christ for the hated dominion mandate (Genesis 1:26-28)?

Could be.

The problem Shyamalan poses is an impersonal, impenetrable, and inexorable. It is not the truth of an infinite-personal God who has spoken, who has revealed Himself, who has condemned rebellion, but who also accomplished redemption in Jesus Christ. Shyamalan has horror and dread, but he has no Gospel, no good news.

Wrong problem => wrong solution.

So the movie leaves one bored and insulted, or alarmed and anxious. It offers no hope.

Only Jesus Christ can offer genuine, eternal, transcendent grounds for hope.

POSTSCRIPT 1: I'm going to allow spoilers in the meta. If you don't want spoilers, don't read the meta.

POSTSCRIPT 2: saw "The Incredible Hulk." Much better movie. Just dumb fun; lots of cartoony action-movie violence, a naughty word or two, but I'd already had more fun in the first three minutes than I did in the whole "Happening.


Stan McCullars said...

100% correct.

the trailers were better, more fast-paced and suspenseful and engaging, than the movie

I left the movie thinking "The movie gave me no more than the trailer."

Could Mark Wahlberg not produce a single tear? "Acting" at its worst.

I had been a big fan of Shyamalan. This one might have completely ended that. "Lady in the Water" was OK. He had what could have been a surprise ending in "The Village" and blew it.

At worst, I'm afraid Shyamalan may have passed his expiration date. At best, he's not "the happening" writer/producer/director he once was.

DJP said...

Yeah, that's my fear.

He has my sympathy, at least to a degree. "Sixth Sense" was such an amazing film, such a jaw-dropping sucker-punch, that were I he I'd be tempted to retire immediately after. Because you could never repeat nor top it.

CA RN to Honduras Missionary said... see a movie here - in Costa Rica - where you have to catch a taxi, get what you need in Spanish - tickets, snacks, etc, suffer through subtitles (I HATE subtitles - I always find my eyes wandering to them and miss some cool stuff on-screen). I say all that because we went to see The Happening ("Tne End of Times" is how it is translated into Spanish - interesting...) last night. Yes, it started here too! Cool beans I thought! I too suspend my beliefs when I go see movies - I don't care that bullets really can't spin in different directions (see trailer for Mystery - looks cool!), and that if in a refrigerator, you can survive a nuclear blast after being thrown through the air about a mile away (another great blockbuster out right now - don't want to spoil it if you haven't seen it). I also enjoyed Lady In the Water - I like how the story developed, and the "characters" that were being sought. Not nearly as creative, yet a good way to spend 2 hours. I don't need/demand twist endings, although I LOVE it when it happens, and I don't demand that a story line be without holes - just go with it - but this...this was tragic! I kept waiting for it to be better. It had such potential! The first 10 minutes of the movie were indeed, thrilling! I thought - once we start to figure out what is going on it's going to be awesome! And yet, two hours later I was still waiting! Even waited through all the credits to see if there was some surprise clip at the end of the credits (don't wait - there isn't). The acting was also terribly disappointing - what were the actors thinking? (or not?!). I will say - the one cool scene was at Mrs. Jones house - that whole sequence was pretty cool! She was creepy to the max, and played it to a tee! Had me jumping! But in the end...alas...they had given up - after the line "he NEVER gives up!" - and walk to their demise?! What the heck? Okay - enough ranting - I was just SO disappointed, having to go through what we have to go through to even SEE a movie, I expect to be somewhat entertained - but alas. The Hulk is next - just don't know if we will make it before we leave to Honduras - and who knows what we will find in the way of theaters there! All in all - don't waste your time - there is so much else to see!

candyinsierras said...

So, what I want to know is where Shymalian popped up in the movie?

DJP said...

Oh, absolutely, CA RN to Honduras Missionary. That scene is so lame.

The external house isn't even that far away.

It could have been done so suspensefully, and in a way that made sense. He could have readied himself, taking a bunch of deep breaths; then run out, with wife and little girl cheering him on from inside. Then he could have caught his foot on something, flown through the air so-mo, landed on his back, with all the breath knocked out of him. Camera could have done a closeup on his panicked face — always assuming that Mark Wahlberg has more than one expression, which may be assuming too much. Could have seen his mounting terror as he realized he'd have to draw a breath, the faces of his wife and little girl as they see his dilemma. Then he finally gasps in a lungful of air, and....

Oh golly. How bad is it when I can make up a far better scene than the one Shyamalan shot?

Just sad.

DJP said...

This time, he apparently didn't, Candy.

Stan McCullars said...

I read that he did the voice for Joey.

Jay said...

Well, I wasn't planning on seeing it anyway. The concept of multiple mass suicides was a little too disturbing for me. However, I read in several reviews that those scenes were filmed in such a way that they seemed almost comical instead of grisly. That's a shame, because I'd hate to think that M. Night has lost his touch that badly.

candyinsierras said...

I liked The Village. I thought Ron Howard's daughter did a great job of acting.

I liked Signs too, but was disappointed that they showed the alien. I think it would have been better not to show anything tangible.

candyinsierras said...

BTW,do the movie credits show Al Gore anywhere? Being as he is the environmental messiah and all.

Actually, it would have been kinda cool to show a carbon footprint squashing him. (just going on the spoiler info).

DJP said...

No. But there is a lot of gore.


Fred Butler said...

...and without cool aliens...

I liked Signs, but "cool aliens?" They were the Sleestacks from "Land of the Lost." Sleestacks? One of the most pathetic monster imaginable. Stupid, slower than Christmas, and you shine lights in their eyes and they whither into the fetal position. Only with the "Signs" aliens, you squirt them with a water gun and it is like acid to them.


DJP said...

It was cool that there were aliens. Aliens are cooler than wind blowing across grass. Also, sproingy hand-horn thingies. Also, cooler than The Village's "Ha ha, fooled you" — in which I think MNS did cheat (unlike with Sixth Sense). That is, Village showed a creature's hand, and it wasn't human. Cheat!

candyinsierras said...

Have you ever seen The Haunting of Hill House? The original one? Not the Haunting of Hell House. Don't confuse the two. In the original movie, nothing was seen. The movie was very scary to me when I was a kid. I saw the remake with my son. Pathetic. All kinds of computer generated scary stuff.

I don't remember seeing a creature's hand in The Village.

DJP said...

Yep. The scene with the door pushing in? And the "who was holding my hand?" Brrr.

CA RN to Honduras Missionary said...

No camio by M. Night, but yes, as per Stan - he WAS the voice of Joey - he shows up in the credits - Mike caught it (since we were still anxiously awaiting SOME shimmer of light and waited until the bitter end of the credits...sigh...)

Four* Pointer said...

If you want some good suspense, there is a show that just started on NBC (Yes, Network TV!!) called "Fear Itself." It's kinda like an hour-long Twilight Zone that keeps you guessing right up to the end. It's been on for about 3 weeks (Thursday nights, 10 Eastern) and it's like the kind of stuff M Night did in his first few movies.

Of course, by the time you read this it may have already Jumped the Shark, so if it has, I apologize.

DJP said...

Thanks. I'll check it out!