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The Happening (2008)

Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

   I imagine M. Night Shyamalan thinking rather highly of himself. Holding onto a confidence that assures him he can do no wrong. Because no matter what, at the end of the day, our minds will be blown as we are forced to bow to all that is him. Almost as though he was experiencing a high similar to any of the character’s in the film Spun. An unfortunate side effect that can come from too much overexposure early on in a Director’s career when they haven’t been served any humble pie.

A quick synopsis being one morning in Central Park, an unexplained illness begins to tear through the Northeast. A type of toxin is somehow being released, causing people to kill themselves. Meanwhile in Philadelphia Science teacher Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) informs his student in the recent bee population decline and how it could be damaging to future generations. Tying in such with a “quote” from Einstein (on the back chalkboard that has never been attributed to him). Interrupted as the entire teaching staff is excused in order to discuss the recent events in New York. Deciding to dismiss school for the time being as certain individuals decide to move out of the city temporarily. The three stages being 1. confused speech; 2. Physical disorientation and 3. Fatality. So Elliot agrees to ride alongside best friend and colleague Julian (John Leguizamo). With Elliot’s wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) as well as Julian’s daughter up to New Jersey. But as the toxin is released in mass amounts and spreading faster than the population can handle, they find themselves at a loss on what move to make next. Deciding to route to a more rural setting, believing the problem to be in large groups of which the toxin seemed to be targeting. Facing many more life threatening situations before finding a kind yet isolated stranger that offers assistance; (Betty Buckley). Miraculously surviving the event as 3 months later, the new family has grown into their own routine. You mean…just like that? Complete chaos to utter solace within a single day? How could such an event occur within such an isolated incident? Do they run the risk of everything, happening, again?

Having been the first R rated film from Night is not as surprising as was the notion of him believing it was the “Hard R” the studio encouraged. When it was quite hilarious as it progressed. Perhaps one didn’t know the definition of that term before going in. Though Night had claimed in bringing down the film from a NC-17; which I’m sure was more of a flat R. Or maybe this is actually what a violent and horrific films felt like to him. Using such cutting edge Newspaper titles as Killadelphia-Murder Rates Soaring or reiterating the title by saying some form of it at least 20 different times.

While it was a rather quiet movie and the concept was thoughtful and creative enough to make one interested in viewing. Upon doing so, becomes painfully obvious that not only have you made yet another bad judgment in character. But that as bad as the dialogue is, the delivery will only prove much worse. Though for many reasons. Because being good at capturing suspense doesn’t always entail that you know what your doing. You can have a couple rudimentary shots with mindless material staring back at you; don’t be so easily fooled. But it is so important to have the right Actors bring everything together. While also realizing that if you continue to make up whatever you like as the film continues, not only well you lose your audience but what does that say about your consistency as a Writer/Director. Clearly Night writes his scripts with the intention of having everything be directly in front of you without actually realizing it. Which in itself is a good quality. But it falls apart in the end.

The Actors: While Mark’s character was written for him, who seriously thought pairing him with Zooey was a good idea? Because it wasn’t, at all. Allowing few shots for each take, stating that he trusted his Actors to get the shot in as little time. However not every Actor acquires that same talent. Nor is it required to have half of the film in unnecessary closeups that come off hokey and humorous as opposed to intensified. Mark ended up looking paranoid for the entire second half of the film with his eyes wide open. The complete lack of chemistry between the two being painfully obvious the more we delved into the story. Knowing that while many may knock Wahlberg in his profession to begin with, that him and Zooey are not this bad of Actors.

However with as small a role that John Leguizamo and Betty Buckley’s were, they were also the more exciting of plots to watch. Julian had reached the end of the road when he discovered his wife had the possibility of being affected. Deciding to leave his daughter with his best friend in hopes of finding her; giving up completely once the toxin reached the small group he departs with. Buckley playing Mrs. Jones who seemed more than paranoid, having spent a majority of her life alone. Giving up on the outside world which had surely never been kind to her, eventually accusing the small group of plotting to kill her in her sleep and to leave immediately.

The Story: Did anyone else notice that not everyone was affected after coming in contact with this killer wind? Because finding out that plants were behind the entire thing wasn’t upsetting enough. Or how after the toxin finally reached it’s victims that they were able to manually operate large machinery and place themselves in ready positions to die. Despite otherwise becoming frozen in time. How nice of the toxin to be so precise in it’s attempt to thwart out the enemy. Turns out that it only affects people who give off “bad vibes.” They even gave Elliot a mood ring as almost a side character. As a means to show how “peaceful” he remained in the midst of everything. So your trying to convince me that with the possibility of his wife leaving him and the world suddenly coming to an end around them, that he’s one of three people who are remaining calm under the situation? The only time his ring changed being when it was necessary for a closeup; because they’re wasn’t an awful amount of those to begin with.

By all means, have a couple of side-plots; just make them worth paying attention to. There was something Alma’s character kept hidden concerning a friend from work; Joey. Scandal? I wish! Just someone she had gone out for ice cream with, one time, and couldn’t help his new found obsession. But the entire situation is made to be far more dramatic than actuality. Nor does she hide the fact well with obvious attempts that one hoped would soon be caught onto. But alas, she’s forced to spill the beans.

My main point being that anyone can take some shots and put them together to trick you into thinking you just watched something amazing. A real Director expects perfection. Knowing tedious and mindless details the audience might never notice but does so as a way of putting you inside another environment completely. While intended to be a throwback to 50’s Horror, it fell through in the end for it’s various reasons. He should have called it The Warning or The Boring or perhaps more appropriate; The Mundane