But, thing is, I’m with Ebert on this one. The Happening is a good thriller. I was riveted, entertained… even moved.
No. I’m not here to be an apologist or “defend” the movie and the man. What’s the point? That’s not my job. I’m just here to express my general opinions on the movie. You may agree or not, but there it is. And there will be some spoilers. Considerable ones I’m sure.
Oh, what the hell… I’ll defend him a little bit.
I don’t think Shyamalan’s bullshitting entirely in the interviews where he claims he wanted to make a B-Movie. Because that is, basically, what he did. He talks about his influences for the film. He mentions Night of the Living Dead. He name drops Hitchcock and The Birds.
But I wasn’t thinking about that as I was watching the movie. You know what name was on my mind? (You’re probably not gonna like this…)
The Happening reminds me of Carpenter’s socio-political thrillers. I’m talking The Thing. I’m referring to They Live… And I’ll even throw in his Village of the Damned remake in the pile too.
The style of the film reminded me a lot of Carpenter. The visceral way Shyamalan chose to stage his violence. The pacing of the movie as a whole… The tone of it too. James Newton Howard once again provides a fantastic musical score, and it has a monotone to it. The combination of that droning theme with the more elaborate flourishes reminded me of Carpenter’s more elegant scores for The Fog and The Thing.
I like how Shyamalan came up with an apocalyptic plot and then decided to just keep it pretty bleak throughout. Even the moment when I thought they were going for the cheese (with Wahlberg and Deschannel embracing on that windy field) didn’t quite go there… And I like that final beat in Paris – fade to black: If the end title card had read John Carpenter’s The Happening for a moment, right before the end credit scroll, I would not have been surprised.
Now, on to the defense…
THE HORRIBLE ACTING
Much has been made of this. People seem to forget that Shyamalan is actually a very good director of actors. I mean, honestly, can you really say that any of his previous films have bad acting as a flaw? And he coached Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson into delivering unique, uncharacteristic and, in my opinion, career best performances. So, what’s the argument? That he fell asleep at the wheel? That he didn’t care?
Here’s my theory: Watch Night of the Living Dead again. Aside from Duane Jones, who is almost Shakespearean, can you really convince me that the movie is not filled with stiff line deliveries? Overacting? Awkward characterizations? And what about Keith Wayne’s incessant fucking blinking? Don’t you want to punch him in the nuts?
Or… let’s flash forward a few years… Halloween. Nancy Loomis is awful. She is given sarcastic lines but has no timing whatsoever. PJ Soles? The “totallys” are supposed to be funny? It’s all so wooden and artificial. What about the exchange between Loomis and the Sherriff… where he ends his line by saying: “damn you for letting him go.” That’s some pretty ineffective acting from Charles Cyphers.
The Happening has classic B-Movie performances. I believe these were completely intentional. Betty Buckley’s entire sequence is like a miniature B-Movie inside the grander B-Movie. And it climaxes with a crazy old lady bashing her face through windows! How can you not get behind this? I thought it was fucking awesome. I’m not even kidding.
I think Wahlberg is given the Kevin McCarthy role from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Jeff Bridges role in Arlington Road. The flustered, paranoid protagonist. He is asked to dial it to Roger Corman levels and he pulls it off. Zooey Deschannel is Gaylen Ross from Dawn of the Dead or Judith O’Dea if you will. There is a kind of flatness to it. But she has a terrific set of eyes and that’s what counts.
And for the record, I thought John Leguizamo brought a lot of heart to his small role. I cared about that character. The scene in the car where he presents a math riddle to calm the hysterical girl, then notices the slit on the roof and realizes he’s going to die… Wonderful acting and a very moving moment.
KILLER PLANTS OMG WTF LMFAO THAT’S SO FUCKING STUPID!
Because dead people getting up and walking around and eating live people because of some meteor or something is not stupid, right? Because aliens travel millions of light years to our planet just so they can destroy our landmarks is not stupid. Because FUCKING SUNGLASSES that reveal the subliminal, hidden truths in our world (in black and white no less) and people in power are actually aliens who look like bad Halloween masks is not stupid. Because all the birds in the world suddenly and for no reason begin attacking people with no explanation whatsoever is not stupid.
Besides, I don’t think it was “The Plants.” I think the idea here is that Nature is killing us. Planet Earth is sick, and must expunge this killer virus that is us. This is how it goes about it.
The concept of nature all of a sudden turning against man is inherently terrifying if you think about it. It is the one thing that we can absolutely not control.
Much has been said of the scene in which Mark Wahlberg “runs from the wind.” I thought that scene was suspenseful. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that he was running from the wind. I wasn’t planning what witty ditty I can dream up to sound really clever on some message board ridiculing the film. I was too busy getting caught up in the story. I was gripped by the concept that Planet Earth had finally taken enough.
It’s like this: Let’s say I take your summer sublet in a cute little brownstone just off Wicker Park. (Stay with me here.) And, while you’re in Europe for the summer, I proceed to have fucked up parties every weekend, leaving cigarette burns on your very expensive divan and ruining your hardwood floors. And, before I leave, I forget to pay the gas and electric. And you find beer stains on your kitchen floor tiles and a busted refrigerator from that time I left it ajar and fell asleep on your kitchen floor.
You’d want to find me and kick me in the asshole, right?
So, as Wahlberg and company are running from the fury of nature (not the wind) I was trying to do what you’re supposed to do in a roller coaster like this – put myself in their shoes. I am running from my planet’s wrath and I am terrified. Why? Because I can do nothing about it? Yes, that. But also because in my gut I know I fucking deserve it.
I think Shyamalan wanted to make a B-Movie with a little bit of a message and some style to it. And I think he pulled it off. It’s fast-paced, entertaining and full of moments that linger in the mind. But, most importantly, it’s unique. I don’t think I’ve seen something quite like it, even as I am reminded of the work of earlier masters of the genre. It has it’s own pulse and texture and is undeniably the work of an artist with a voice all his own. That’s what I look for in a movie.
One more analogy and then I’ll shut up… Let’s say there’s this guy we both know called Michael Levitin. I happen to think he’s a douchebag. You think he’s ok. You tell me he just got married and moved into a nice place in Williamsburg, about a block from Pita Power (this is before they closed, the cocksuckers). I decide to come along for the free food. So, we show up and it turns out it is a pretty nice place, his wife is pretty cute and a nice person, and she’s cooked a pretty mean spinach lasagna.
Mike says “Hi!” And the first thing out of my mouth is: “Dude, that widow’s peak is almost gone and you’ve really put on some pounds!” I walk into his living room, point to the coffee table and say: “Is that IKEA? I had one of those but the piece of shit fell apart in two weeks.” His wife comes out to greet me, shakes my hand, smiles and I say: “Heh… took a bite of that lasagna already? There’s a little green in your incisors.” And when we sit down to eat, I can’t stop talking about this tremendous minestrone I had the other night at The Olive Garden.
I can’t get past it. I just can’t stand that bastard. And the next day I tell my friends at work all about the horrible dinner at Michael Levitin’s tacky apartment with his fugly wife.
But, maybe I should’ve just shut the fuck up and enjoyed the lasagna.
Okay, I’m done.