No matter what side or viewpoint it is, a movie should never be made to make a political statement.unless stated so in the trailers and posters. It is one thing to start off by letting the public know the plot before you begin, it is something entirely different to have it be the main theme. Whenever you leave the theater feeling duped, because you were all set to see a thriller, or a comedy, or a romance, and you find out halfway in that it is really about the injustices and atrocities taking place in Darfur or something like that, it sours your whole day.
The newest film by thriller filmmaker, M. Night Shyamalan entitled, The Happening, looked very promising from the original trailer all the way until I saw the feature. The premise going in was that all the people of the eastern seaboard were dropping dead for no apparent reason. They would just stop moving and have the sudden urge to kill themselves and would do anything necessary to accomplish this gruesome task. The catch was, no one knew what was responsible. Many speculated terrorism in some form of biochemical warfare, or maybe even the work of our own government. All fantastic theories. The buildup for this film was quite high in my realm of friends and was the topic of conversation for the last few weeks. M. Night usually does well putting together thrills and twists that keep us on the edge of our seats. This time, however, we are sorely disappointed.
We open up in Central Park in New York City at 8:33 am. The park is full and busting with life. Bike riders trafficking the walkways, couples holding hands as they stroll, picnics taking place on the grass, dogs chasing Frisbees, you know, the usual stuff you would expect to see in a park. The camera fixes on a pair of young ladies sitting on a nearby park bench. They are in the middle of a very ordinary conversation when the wind begins the blow ever so slightly and a woman’s scream breaks the rhythm of white noise and catches their attention. They turn their heads, one of the women, seeing nothing, turns back to her friend and continues the conversation only to find her young friend has completely gone mute and with a blank facial expression, slowly, but diligently, pulls the long Japanese hairpin from her hair and slowly begins to stab herself in the neck. End scene.
Enter our protagonist, Elliot Moore, played by the always a pleasure to watch, Mark Wahlberg. We find him a science teacher at a Philadelphia high school giving a lecture on the latest honey bee death phenomenon. His class is interrupted by the Vice Principal who announces that school is dismissed until further notice and all are excused to go with their families. It appears this strange happening that occurred in Central Park is spreading. Thus begins our long meaty portion of the film in which we follow Elliot and his family as they try and stay away from this ‘attack’.
Thus far, the film is still quite intriguing. There are a few minor directing flaws, but nothing we haven’t already come to expect from Night. I say directing flaws in a manor that is entirely opinionated due solely to the fact that I have seen these actors do far better jobs on previous films and I said the same for the actors in Lady In The Water, so one can only attribute it to direction or writing, but our director and writer are one in the same. Another directing flaw comes from the effects department that should have been fixed during editing. A man is compelled to kill himself by whatever is attacking, and enters the lion exhibit at the local zoo. He antagonizes the cats until they attack ripping off his limbs. Not only is the limb ripping very unrealistic, it appears as if the effects team decided to use a left-over green screen from the local news station weather reports. A poorly made film with a poor plot.
As it turns out, the earth is being hurt by human beings through pollution and the emitting of carbons, so the plants decide that they need to defend themselves against us somehow and begin releasing chemicals into the air that make us commit suicide. Nice timing politically, don’t you think?
There are films out there, like Fahrenheit 911 and An Inconvenient Truth, that are made to tell a certain side to a certain argument, and that is perfectly fine because you know what you are getting when you go in. But when you are paying a hefty fee to see a suspense thriller, the last thing you want to do is have to make a moral stand and take a side. You just want to be entertained. I am tired of seeing films that have this overpowering theme relating to politics. I had my suspicions, however, when I saw Lady In The Water, and there were strong political implications there as well, and went into this one with my guard up. If filmmakers want to show a political view they need to do it in the correct form. I am in no way a fan of Al Gore, but he makes his points without shrouding them in subplots. Oliver Stone is able to make films such as Born on The Fourth Of July, and Platoon, that entertain as well as show political views. The only difference is, he shows both sides adequately. You leave his films feeling a deep emotion and empathize with whatever side you were against before you went in. He’s an oldie, but a goodie.
The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, Unbreakable, all good films by Night because he kept his opinions out. In the genre you chose Mr. Shyamalan, there is no place for political stance. And you will continue to disappoint movie goers and I will continue to hear comments like, “That was the worst movie I have ever seen,” from patrons leaving the theater, if you stay on this path. One spot of good news is that John Leguizamo got some work. I enjoy him as an actor and am glad to see him in a feature again.
I have yet to meet someone who liked this film. If you disagree with me, or simply wish to swap opinions, or chat on this, post on my thread, or shoot me an email. I am always up for a good debate. Until next time, keep doing your chewing in the sewer!