Young Marky Mark would have called this guy by an anti-gay slur, I bet…
Every time I see the word “happening” used as a gerund, I think of the late wrestling announcer Gorilla Monsoon, who always pronounced it happaneen, and would say it about everything. Every big event, even some that quite obviously were not sold out, he’d say, “It’s a happaneen, folks! The fans here are literally hangeen from the rafters!” It was really annoying. But had this been an M. Night Shyamalan movie, the fans would be hanging by their necks from the rafters. Mass suicides being the main plot device of THE HAPPENING.
Now, chances are good that someone has blabbed something to you about the cause of the mass suicides, and you may be pissed because you think the big twist got blown. Well, chill, because there is no big twist. The cause is guessed at fairly early on, and never 100% confirmed. We’ll see if I can go the whole review without saying it, but really, it’s not a SIXTH SENSE-level spoiler. It’d be the equivalent of going into the first LORD OF THE RINGS movie already knowing that the One Ring belongs to Sauron. I will say, because the photo above comes right out and spells it out, that Shyamalan seems to have been inspired by the recent urban legend about bees disappearing en masse, and came up with this movie to answer the question, what if that happened with people?
Maybe it’s because almost everyone has been calling this the worst movie ever, setting my expectations low…but I liked the movie. Me and Manohla Dargis and Jeffrey Wells are the only ones, it seems. I’ve read some of the negative reviews, and I don’t think the haters are really missing anything, per se…except maybe this: I’m convinced that some of the stuff the naysayers think is “unintentionally” funny is fully intended to be so. It’s very deadpan, and not a little twisted, but many of the suicides — which include a man lying down under a riding mower, and a guy at the zoo annoying the lions till they bite his limbs off one at a time – are greatly amusing, and so ridiculous, yet disturbing if you think about them in real-world situations, that I have to think they’re meant to be, and it works for me. There’s also a scene where Mark Wahlberg has a conversation with a plastic tree that’s an obvious joke, and a bit early on where he’s teaching a science class and reprimands one of his students for being a pretty boy, telling him he can’t get by on his good looks forever. Now, either Shyamalan has never heard of the Funky Bunch, or that’s an in-joke.
There’s also a funny bit of character business that I think everyone can agree is deliberately, weirdly funny – when one of the survivors says to her husband, apropos of nothing, “We got binoculars in the back…from when you were spying on our neighbors.” Shyamalan’s direction always seems so serious that it’s easy to imagine he may be screwing up when he draws laughs, but I’d lay down money that many of these were deliberate.
Where I’m less sure is in some of the really clunky exposition. Every time a character turns on a radio or the TV, it promptly delivers the exact bit of explanation that’s needed right at that time. This is a little too silly to work in context; especially so when it’s used to hammer home the “moral” at movie’s end. It’s also evidence that Shyamalan could use a writing collaborator. I have zero problems whatsoever with his direction – even LADY IN THE WATER had nicely filmed sequences, but they just happened to be in the service of an idiotic story that made no sense. And that’s not to say that the guy is a totally crappy writer; regardless of its silly ending, THE VILLAGE contains one of my favorite battle-of-the-sexes dialogue exchanges in all of cinema…
Bryce Dallas Howard: “Why can you not say what is in your head?”
Joaquin Phoenix: “Why can you not stop saying what is in yours?”
Nonetheless, all of his movies since UNBREAKABLE could’ve used a polish. And this one’s no exception, but it was a more enjoyable viewing experience to me than his last two. (Except for circumstances at my particular theater, but more on that later). I will be interested to see what he does with his live-action adaptation of the cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, where he has to work with a pre-existing property.
I haven’t talked about the plot much here, because really, the main plot point is one you probably don’t want to know if you haven’t seen it. Suffice it to say that mass suicides are occurring, initially described as being the result of an unknown neurotoxin. Wahlberg plays a science teacher named Mr. Moore (I half expected his first name to be Michael, given the environmental political slant that develops, but no, he’s named Elliot) who’s having marital difficulties with weirdly neurotic wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel). Together with fellow teacher Julian (John Leguizamo, who strikes me as being about as much of a math teacher as I am a ladies’ man) and his eight year-old daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), they flee Philadelphia (like Stephen King, Shyamalan always visits disaster on his own home city and state) for rural Pennsylvania, hoping that by dispersing into smaller groups in less populated areas, they’ll be less inviting targets for whatever it is.
Leguizamo’s bearable. I hate the guy in many things, but in serious roles he tends to be okay (see also CRONICAS). And Wahlberg, everyone else seems to think is terrible, but he’s playing a mild-mannered guy who’s in shock the whole movie. Given that, what he says and does doesn’t strike me as preposterous, any more so than the film’s premise anyway.
So yeah, I had a good time. I would have had a better time if not for the fact that every OC multiplex seems determined to thwart me to some degree. I’ve mostly given up on The Block, after seeing IRON MAN there opening weekend and the sound being crappy, plus none of the employees there ever close the auditorium doors once a movie starts. I don’t want to hear DOOMSDAY in the background while watching FUNNY GAMES, thanks. And if you are going to stand around in the lobby talking loudly, I’d hope you’d notice that the doors are open, like they aren’t supposed to be.
The new AMC at The District in Tustin boded better. Only 14 screens, big staff, stadium seating. And yet the opening titles were just slightly out of focus. I notice this because I sit close.
So I go into the lobby to complain. Get the attention of the ticket taker and tell her. She says to go to guest services and tell them. I ask her can’t she do it, since I’m missing part of my movie? She shrugs. There’s already a guy talking to guest services about something else, so I yell “Focus in theater 9! And please shut the door too!” before running back in.
[Note: I worked in a movie theater. At the theater where I worked, ANY employee had the ability to call the projectionist and ask him to check the focus.]
30 minutes later, I come out again, as focus is still slightly off. No one is there at guest services. I yell a “hello.” The ticket taker girl sees me. I tell her it’s still not fixed. She gives me a knowing “Okay,” like she’s gonna fix it.
The fixing never happened. I think it’s lame to ask for a free pass or womething if you sit through the whole movie, so I didn’t. Maybe I should have walked out. But I enjoyed myself enough that I didn’t want to, which I guess speaks to me having a good time with the filmmaking, at least.
Now, I hesitate to recommend it nonetheless, just because everyone else I read seems to hate it sooooo much. But whatever. Caveat emptor. It’s a smart move to use contemporary fears of WMDs as a subtext — worked well for THE SIGNAL, which also had a really twisted sense of humor. But I have a feeling that a more definitive horror flick on the same theme may be coming. Perhaps it’ll be the Stephen King CELL adaptation.