Monday, July 14, 2008

The Happening

Whoa! A week long hiatus on The Agitation of the Mind. This can only mean one of three things:

1) I've won big on the lottery and been spending the last few days haemorrhaging money on fast cars and even faster women (clue to unlikelihood: Paula wouldn't let me);

2) The commissioning editor of Sight & Sound, stumbling upon this blog, has liked what he's seen and retained my services as staff writer on his august publication (clue to unlikelihood: well ... check the next issue);

3) I really - REALLY - don't want to write about 'The Happening'.

Hands up everyone who guessed 3.

Hands up everyone who really doesn't want to read about 'The Happening'.

Hands up everyone who knocked off reading this article two sentences ago and has gone down the pub/cinema/rental shop.


Nah, can't leave it.

'The Happening' is a film that doesn't have a twist ending, isn't a fairy tale, and is free of the turgid trickery of 'The Village'. Yet it's the single worst thing M Night Shyamalan has ever made. Why?

1) There's no suspense. The (intended) enigma of the first half - is what's happening a terrorist attack, or something else? - is undermined by the fact that the film-makers were talking it up as an ecological horror movie six months before it opened. Also, the resolution comes down to one of the characters saying little more than "Hey, what if it's the trees doing it?" Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

2) It's not remotely scary. The litany of suicides becomes soul destroyingly repetitive after the first ten minutes. Thereafter, Shyamalan tries to conjure terror by frequently cutting away to shots of grass blowing in the wind, or the wind rustling through trees. The virus/infection/thingymajig is carried on the wind, you see. Thing is, wind is invisible. This is a movie. As in short for 'moving picture'. Do you see the problem here?

3) It's reminiscent of Hitchcock's 'The Birds', but without the birds. Which is kind of like doing 'Alien' but without an alien. Or 'Debbie Does Dallas' sans Debbie. Also, 'The Birds' is only a partially successful movie: the first half is lousy, the second terrific. Shymalan achieves an inverse homage here: the first of 'The Happening' is average, the second half appalling. Subject of which ...

4) The film doesn't just fall apart in the second half, it kind of stops, looks around, realises it's lost and kind of wanders around dazed until the closing credits roll.

5) The whole and-then-the-threat-just-passed finale is tres 'Signs', as is the small-group-of-survivors-holed-up-in-a-rural-locale scenario. And doesn't that sound like a certain George A Romero film?

6) Not content to fob us off with the and-then-the-threat-just-passed-and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after-and-the-lady-got-pregnant-and-they-were-a-happy-loving-family ending, Shyamalan decides he wants to have his cake and eat it, and delivers a "shock" ending in which ... ooops, the happening happens again. Well, fuck me sideways.

Okay, I've just spent twenty minutes of my life that I'll never have again typing this - which, added to the running time of the film, clocks in at about two hours, and I'm still pissed off at James ("I'm the king of the world, woof, woof, woof") Cameron and Michael ("666") Bay for the three fuckin' hours apiece they owe me for 'Titanic' and 'Pearl Harbor', the only two movies that have had me cheering on, respectively, a large chunk of ice and a squadron of Japanese kamizakis.

Please, Mr Shyamalan, make a good movie next time. You deserve better than this kind of write-up.


James Hansen said...

I mentioned this a couple times on Out 1, but a fascinating experiment by artist Martin Hendriks involving "The Birds" without birds is in the link below. I thought the playfulness is what made "The Happening" something unexpected and different. I am WAY in the minority there, but adamant all the same.

Neil Fulwood said...

Thanks for your postcode from the minority, James. I've often felt the same weight of ostracization over my enjoyment of 'Lady in the Water'.

Read your Out 1 piece with interest. I'm now determined to reappraise 'The Happening', when it debuts on DVD, with your point of view in mind.

James Hansen said...

Haha...I have to say I hated "Lady in the Water" as much as you hated "The Happening" from the looks of it. Maybe we can both do reconsiderations of the ones we didnt' like once "The Happening" comes out on DVD. That would be fun...

Neil Fulwood said...

You're on! Here's to 'The Happening' redux in a few months' time ....

JBond said...

There's a cool debate going on over at this link about 'The Happening'you might want to read. It's starts with Mark Wahlberg being looked over for 'The Crow' reboot.