Sunday, June 15, 2008

Movie Review: The Happening

First off, spoiler warning: all parts of this review which might ruin the movie for those of you that haven't seen it are in white. You can highlight them for easier reading.

M. Night Shyamalan has a history of making intriguing, sort of scary movies. He wrote the Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, and now, The Happening. IMDB also credits him with the screenplay of Stuart Little. I don't know what to think about that.

The premise: Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) is a science teacher in Philadelphia. Suddenly the "happening" occurs in Central Park, and it makes people kill themselves. It starts happening in other populated places, and people are killing themselves from Washington to New England. Elliot, his wife Alma, and friends have to figure out a way to not kill themselves.

The plot: They run. A lot. Seriously, there's not a whole lot more to the plot than that. Except for Shyamalan's extremely weak attempt at a subplot, as Elliot and Alma are not getting along at the beginning of the movie. (Spoiler): The way this "virus" works is that it has been spreading from more populated places on to less and less populated places. They try and get further and further from people until they find some old lady's cottage in the middle of nowhere, PA. She is unnecessarily grumpy and eventually gets affected by the virus, putting her head through a window. Wahlberg's wife is over in the spring house when this hits, so she has to hole herself up in there, along with a friend's daughter. Luckily, there's a talking pipe between the main house and the spring house, allowing them to reconcile. Wahlberg then decides that if he dies, he wants to die with her, so he throws caution to the wind and goes outside. Luckily, the virus went away, and we jump ahead to Wahlberg's wife finding out she's pregnant. Then the happening happens in Paris. The end.

The acting: Below average. No one in this movie is a very good actor. Even Wahlberg, who has generally been pretty good, falls short here. Of course, all this may be the fault of...

The script: absolutely sucked. The more I talked about this movie with Bob and Noah, the more we realized this was really poorly written. This movie has none of the elements of a good drama. Subplot? The only apparent attempt was Elliot and Alma's splintering marriage. It turns out that there aren't any juicy secrets between them. Elliot even delivers a line around the middle of the movie that seems to admit that the conflict between them is pretty poorly developed, and reduces it to a joke. It turns out that they just forgot to communicate over the past couple weeks. And you know how there's always intriguing false leads in a movie? You know, when they make you think you figured it out, but not really? Negative. Again, Shyamalan made a couple weak attempts, but there's no point in this movie where you say "whoa! he really got me there". Finally, Shyamalan never figured out a creative way to explain information to the audience. Most of the info is delivered through random characters (who have no point to their existence other than to deliver a line or two of information, and then kill themselves) or intrusive news reports.

Bottom line: M Night Shyamalan takes a semi-intriguing idea and then kills it with subpar acting and a script that he apparently spent a lunch break on. The concept has potential, but it gets completely killed in Shyamalan and co.'s assumption that people will be wowed just because he wrote it. Wrong.

Grade: D+. If it comes on TV in a year and you have nothing better to do, invite some friends over and watch it so you can spend the next week making fun of it.

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