Friday, March 3, 2017

Film Review: The Happening (2008)

The Happening (Review)
United States/2008
Format Viewed For Review: HBO Now
Netflix Instant: No
Amazon Prime: No

"It feels like an Asylum rip-off of a Shyamalan film that happens to be written and directed by Shyamalan."

A science teacher, his wife, and his best friend's daughter attempt to survive a mysterious attack that causes people to kill themselves...

The Happening is... a bizarre movie. Off the bat, I'll give it credit for being original. The introduction is also strong, showcasing M. Night Shyamalan's directorial skills. The plot follows Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), a science teacher, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), his wife, Julian (John Leguizamo), his best friend, and Jess, Julian's daughter. When the East Coast is hit by a mysterious neurotoxin that causes mass suicide, Elliot and his family/friends depart from New York and search for safety. They find themselves joining several groups, moving to smaller and smaller communities—some with unwelcoming locales. It starts to lose steam towards the second half, where we start talking about plants and cough syrup. It leads to an incredibly underwhelming climax and a very disappointing ending.

I went into this film with an open mind. I love Shyamalan's original work and I even enjoy his recent work. This... This was a misfire on Shyamalan's part. The film starts off very promising, almost working as a whodunit for the first half of the movie, but it eventually feels like it's aimlessly wandering in any direction. It feels as if Shyamalan himself didn't know where the film was heading. I enjoyed some aspects of the revelation, but it just doesn't land. It didn't leave a significant impact. Truth be told, it almost felt like one of those cheap, slapdash films from The Asylum. I think that represents the quality of this film the best. It feels like an Asylum rip-off of a Shyamalan film that happens to be written and directed by Shyamalan.

The film starts off with some solid suspense and a few chilling visuals. Although it's not perfect, I genuinely enjoyed the scene where people are leaping off the building because it feels raw and ominous. It's an excellent set-up. The suspense from the first act, however, quickly fizzles out as the atrocious dialogue becomes more and more evident with each passing second. In other words, this film isn't saved by any thrills or scares. There are more suicide scenes scattered throughout the film, but that impact from the first few just vanishes. It's hard to have suspense when you just don't care for any of the characters and when you fail at creating a compelling antagonist.

The acting does not fare better. Mark Wahlberg has been performing better recently. However, Wahlberg was hilariously miscast for this role. He sounds like he's asking questions 90-percent of the time—maybe he couldn't believe the ridiculous dialogue. Zooey Deschanel is horrible. Any suspense in this film is deflated because of Deschanel's presence. She tried to do her 'I'm quirky so you have to like me'-thing, but she failed miserably. John Leguizamo is the only actor who appears to have taken his role seriously. The film is otherwise great on the technical side. The cinematography and the music are solid. M. Night Shyamalan's writing and direction are bad—which is surprising. I want to believe he was forced to do this or he was rushed because it just doesn't have his usual thoughtful magic.

Overall, The Happening is a bad movie. I enjoyed the introduction, I appreciate its originality, but it's just bad. The acting is mediocre, the dialogue is horrendous, the pacing is inconsistent, and the story issloppy. It has something to say, clearly, but it's too busy mumbling to really make any sense. Perhaps I'll enjoy it next time I watch it. Right now, I'm just really disappointed.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

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