Monday, June 16, 2008

The Happening

I like M. Night Shyamalan. He may not be the next Hitchcock or Spielberg people were claiming after the sixth sense, but he does craft some interesting stories. I'd put him on par with the likes of John Carpenter (which I intend as a compliment). They both have created some poor movies, but also some very thrilling ones. Shyamalan seems to bounce back, humbled by the failure of the abysmal Lady in the Water. The Happening is a much more subdued thriller, and he's finally avoided twists for the sake of having a twist.

The best scenes, unfortunately, are in the trailer and right at the beginning of the movie. They set up a confused human race facing a force that we cannot begin to understand. People being killing themselves en mass for no apparent reason. People suspect terrorism, then nuclear leaks, then toxins sent off by defense mechanisms in plants. People begin to flee cities in the North East and become isolated as smaller and smaller bands of people begin to be affected.

Mark Wahlberg stars as a science teacher trying to figure out what's happening. He travels with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), brother Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Wahlberg was the weakest link here. A combination of wooden acting, and poor dialog made me feel bad not for the character, but for the actor. Leguizamo was fine, though he had a fairly small role. Same with Sanchez. Deschanel I thought was actually very good. All of this tragedy made her question everything in her life. While Elliot (Wahlberg) simply went into survival mode, she wrestled with much deeper emotions.

This could really almost be a follow-up to Signs, in that it explores the same themes of isolation and claustrophobia. It also hammers it's theme of environmentalism the same way Signs drove in its themes of faith. Both were completely overt and even a little preachy in these ideas. When it comes to underlying text, Shyamalan throws subtlety to the side. I'd prefer it is the environmentalist message was left for us to figure out, not told to us by a news anchor that bares a striking resemblance to Creed Bratton.

These was actually considerable depth to this movie. Aside from the obvious environmental themes, the concept of needing isolation to survive is an interesting idea. In a time when all you want is companionship- that's the very thing that could kill you. Leguizamo also posed some hidden questions of the exponential impact we have on the environment under the guise of his status as a math teacher.

The movie isn't a jump out of your seat thriller, and in only a couple of (possibly unnecessary) scenes is it cringe worthy. It's the type of thriller that leaves a rock in your stomach, and you're not even exactly sure why. There have been many complaints that the movie is just boring, but the slow pace of it allows you to fully contemplate the subtext. It's a great idea, but unfortunately the actual script itself just isn't up to par.


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