The Happening

In a recent post I promised to review M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie,The Happening, once I saw it.  I did see it a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll try to review it the best I can considering my questionable short-term memory. For those of you bottom-line type folks, I’ll give it a thumbs up.  For the rest of you, keep reading and I’ll tell you why.  Caution, there may be plot spoilers.

First, let me say that I chose the “thumbs up” rating style because it’s kind of like the pass-fail grading system for movies. So, in a pass-fail world, The Happening passed, whereas movies like Peter Jackson’s King Kong didn’t.  It’s not the best movie Shyamalan has made, but it’s worth seeing, if you don’t mind blood, gore or Zooey Deschanel.

Overall, the film didn’t seem to me to be as tightly directed as most of his other films. It also doesn’t have the same kind of controlled setting like The Village or The 6th Sense, and as far as I caught, he didn’t use the same color clues he used in those films.  It’s definitely a horror film, even more so than The 6th Sense. In a way, it kind of draws on the old monster movles of the 50’s and 60’s, without the giant bugs or spreading green slime. And, it draws a bit from Hithchock’s The Birds, with its random acts of unexplained terror, although The Happening isn’t as random as it first seems. The point is made twice in the film, a bit heavy-handedly, that no matter how much science can explain the hows and whats, there are things about nature that science can not tell us. I had read something that suggested Shyamalan was taking a sort of ID position in the film, but I don’t think that’s true. If anything, there’s a kind of pantheism or self-evolved consciousness suggested, but he avoids use of the word “God” in favor of “nature.”

One of the things that I loved about the film was Shyamalan’s weird sense of humor; in this way, as I’ve mentioned before, he reminds me of Hitchcock.  In a film with sometimes grotesque violence and extremely intense situations, there are some brilliantly humorous moments. Then, when your’re off your guard, well, you can probably guess…

In general, I thought it was a fairly well-done film. I liked the concept, and I think Mark Wahlberg did a great job as the lead. He seems to handle both intense drama and humor well, even in the same scene.  I didn’t even mind Zooey Deschanel, who seemed well-suited to play the distracted wife of Wahlberg’s character. There are some other great characters, as there are in most of Night’s films. I can’t say much more about or I’ll give too much away.

I think the film would have been much better had it not relied so much upon graphic violence. The scene of the man having his arms ripped off by wild animals was way too long and unnecessary, as are a few other scenes. It seemed almost that he felt obligated to leave that in, when the movie would have been fine – and I think better – without it, or at least a shortened version leaving more to the imagination. Sometimes, what you don’t see is worse than what you do; the old filmmakers knew that.  This is not a shock-film like so many cheap horror flicks are, but sometimes the focus on almost gratuitous violence seems to distract from the movie’s focus.

I also thought that the dialog in this film didn’t live up to the standards Shyamalan set in his earlier films, and he should have had a bit of help in that area.  Some of the dialog is classic Shyamalan, but sometimes it seemed too contrived.

Overall, I think it ranks as my least-favorite Shyamalan film (The Lady in the Water and The Village being my favorites), but I’m still glad I saw it. I’ll probably watch it again when it’s released on DVD.

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