Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, 2008
Last week’s Science Friday on NPR featured an interview with M. Night regarding THE HAPPENING. It wasn’t a bad interview and Shyamalan was his usual enthusiastic self, that is until host Ira Flatow asked Shyamalan if he, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘liked the ending of his movie’. Shyamalan was offended, responding along the lines of, “Did you seriously just ask a filmmaker if he likes his own movie?”
Flatow apologized diplomatically and rephrased his question, though I don’t think he should have. Shyamalan deserves the scrutiny. He has been on a downwards spiral with critics and consumers alike, due in no small part to his endings. Fortunately for the director, the ending is not the problem with THE HAPPENING. The beginning, middle and end are uniformly problematic. Every frame of his rebound film is a blight on filmmaking. I wanted to like THE HAPPENING. I wanted to will myself to. An inexplicable occurence causes people to kill themselves? Shyamalan’s first R rated movie? Point to the dotted line, sir.
All that is for naught, however. THE HAPPENING is a shambled, shambling, shamed sham of a mess. I feel mournful writing such a negative review for a filmmaker who I, at one point in time, held in high esteem. THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS; all flicks that impress me in more ways than one. And then he went down the dreaded spiral until this, a possibly apocalyptic film to re-certify the filmmaker as a talent to be reckoned with. THE HAPPENING though…where to start with this dreadful mess?
I cannot fathom any deviating path Shyamalan could have taken to make a worse film out of THE HAPPENING. Not only is he stuck with a non-story to non-tell, but it as if the director has forgotten how to even make a movie. The yield is a half baked disaster that inspires nothing but discomfort towards the fellow. THE HAPPENING is a miscarriage, Shyamalan the crazy lady who bundles the corpse in a blanket and carries it around the hospital, convinced it is a real, functional, living being. It is not. THE HAP is dead on arrival. Nothing can resuscitate such miserable filmmaking. I feel for his family, friends and producers, those poor souls who have to look him in the eyes and surpress their “What in the fuck were you thinking?” outcries.
It opens as the trailer does. People first stop moving and then kill themselves. Mark Wahlberg is a science teacher concerned with the inexplicable disappearance of bees across the globe. Soon news of the NYC event spreads and science teacher Walhberg, coworker Leguizamo and wife Zoe Deschanel leave town. With comprehension still vague, the scale of the event spreads until it ultimately reaches the aforementioned survivors, who must then decipher the mystery to, well, survive like they’ve been doing.
The problems are immediate, however. The characters are as thin as Matzah bread and about as flavorful. So we have no one of interest to attach ourselves to. Shyamalan attempts to infuse his poor script with the broad humor that worked so well in, say, SIGNS. It does not however. The relief is as thought out as any comedy to be found on Christian TV network PAX. If that is your bag, swing away, but I require a little more than saying, “Cheese and Crackers!” instead of “Jesus Christ!”. Your movie is rated R for fuck’s sake, drop that F bomb.
Which leads to a second problem. This is Shyamalan’s first R rated film, but I fail to see why. The violence is minimal, the gore on par with that disappointment. The blood is abysmal CGI. Worst of all, there is no threat to the event. People get ‘infected’, stop what they are doing and then kill themselves. That’s straight; I dig it and the imagery possible is endless, BUT Shyamalan has no vision in the suicide department. Every point of expansion, every avenue of imagination is probed with the same exertion a fat goth kid uses playing dodgeball in gym class. It is not an issue of the director showing restraint so much as a blasting spotlight on his glaring inadequacy for this material. If you’ve seen the red band trailer of the film, you’ve seen every frame of its horror highs, which is a sad state considering I can hold my breath longer than it takes the trailer to unspool.
Sticking with the tangent of insufficenet vision, this is Shyamalan’s ugliest film to date. The man must talk a great game, as he managed to bag the magnificent Christopher Doyle for LADY IN THE WATER, but Tak Fujimoto‘s work here is phoned in. Long distance. The widescreen film often looks as if it was framed for a 4:3 presentation, which is off putting for any audience member who has an eye for such a trait. And if you are reading this site, I am confident you do. Gone are the iconic shots of SIGNS and UNBREAKABLE, present are 91 minutes of amateur-at-best photography.
All performances are flaccid. Proven actors are given zero material to work with, the only member who manages to sift himself to the top is John Leguizamo in a bit part as a math teacher more interesting than all of the film’s main protagonists combined. There is a moment in THE HAPPENING that rivals TROLL 2, I shit you negative. When the shotgun scene happens, I defy you to not think of, “Ohhhhh…..My…….Gosssshhhh!!!!!” James Newton Howard’s score is listless to boot.
The cause of the conflict is apparent from scene two, at least to anyone who has read Michael Crichton. The former (in my youth) fav author of mine wrote an extensive section in THE LOST WORLD on the very mechanism cited here. Coincidently enough, in that same Science Friday interview, Shyamalan mentioned Crichton’s brand of extrapolating fiction from fact as one of THE HAPPENING’S resident influences. If only his take on the brand bore a fraction of the energy of even the weakest Crichton science yarns.
There is no immediacy to his story, either. Okay, “it”, whatever “it” is, happens and you kill yourself. How is that threatening? Shyamalan does not present his victims as resistant. They snap and then calmly (and tamely) kill themselves and themselves alone, creating a scene of harmony with the world. The characters we are supposed to care about, though we do not due to their unlevaend breadness, are never placed in palpable danger. The infected pose no threat to them. The only variable is ‘when’ they punch their own ticket, which is not an unsettling prospect in and of itself; especially since Shyamalan paints his red in such safe strokes.
THE HAPPENING is a failure. No hesitation, no afterthought, no justification can remedy this verdict. It flat does not work. No matter how insistent he is as the father, no one will believe THE HAP ever used its own lungs to breath. Trite and boring to any individual whose own imagination works harder and faster than Shyamalan’s did making his movie. A most unremarkable occurrence, THE HAPPENING is a cadaver of a film so inept its bankruptcy of life reaches staggering altitudes.
I’ll spend days wondering aloud to anyone who will listen as to how exactly a film of such deficiency could ever find its way out of a projector. Blacklist this bomb from your mind.