Movie Review: The Happening
By Matthew Huntley
June 19, 2008
As the remaining citizens take off, Elliot, Alma and Jess end up on foot. They come upon desolate houses in the middle of farm country and are met by hostile inhabitants, the last being the kooky Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley), who's paranoid they're out to steal her possessions.
I can't go any further without revealing crucial plot details, which is a shame, since they'd probably deter you from seeing this movie. All I can ask is, whatever happened to M. Night Shyamalan? He was once a promising and ambitious filmmaker, but in the last couple years, he's descended into obscurity and a bloated self-importance. With his much-maligned Lady in the Water (2006) and now The Happening, he seems to have abandoned all consideration of his audience. His movies feel like they're only made for him. He's like a painter who creates a portrait just to hang in his own living room. But unlike a painting, Hollywood movies are intended for an audience who likes to take part in the stories, not only for entertainment purposes, but as ways to learn, feel and enjoy. Shyamalan doesn't seem to care about the audience anymore.
There have been other obscure filmmakers, notably Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, whose films don't readily (and intentionally) make sense and aren't always easy to watch, but at least with them we get a sense they're trying to challenge and include us. The Happening, which is straightforward and bland, gives us a feeling of detachment. But it's not the eerie kind that would make us fearful for the characters; it's the kind in which we don't care about what happens. Its central theme of the environment fighting back against man is a mere platitude of wishy-washiness and leaves us empty and unaffected.
Watching the movie reminded of the scene in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles when Steve Martin lashes out at John Candy about how pointless his conversations are. "Didn't you notice on the plane when you started talking, eventually I started reading the vomit bag? Didn't that give you some sort of clue..." That's what I felt like yelling at this movie. During the screening, I felt disengaged and began thinking about errands I needed to run. I also checked my watch to have a better idea of when the 90 minutes would be up. At least Lady in the Water was bad in an interesting way. The Happening is bad in a boring, ineffectual way. It ignites no reaction. I was never curious, afraid, tense, sad, humored, angry. Nothing.
The actors don't help. Anyone who speaks any dialogue in this movie does so with the least amount of passion and conviction. They seem confined to reciting their dialogue as if it were a dress rehearsal. This is somewhat of a shock since Wahlberg, Deschanel and Leguizamo have all proven themselves before, but here they deliver their lines monotone and without fluctuation.
Instead of a big-budget Hollywood movie, The Happening feels more like a misguided student film, made up of scenes that lack relevance and purpose. One involves a botanist who asks Elliot and Alma if they like hot dogs, and then goes on to say how hot dogs have gotten a bad reputation, despite their protein. Later on, we see this same man eat a hot dog. Okay, is this the payoff to the earlier said dialogue? Is this supposed to be humorous? Ironic? Insightful? If so, why?
I'm willing to admit when I don't fully "get" a movie, but I won't say that about The Happening. Frankly, I don't believe there's anything to get. It's a dull, witless and frustrating movie to sit through. I'd say let it sweep the Razzies, but then I think no, because the less exposure this movie gets, the better.