Monday, June 16, 2008

What's Happening? (And Please Make It Stop!)

I'm not going to do a full capsule review of The Happening, not entirely because I'm so paralyzed with rage, and not entirely because Jason offered up a way better metaphor than I possibly could have. Mostly it's because I don't think I could, in good conscience, come up with something to fit the "Best Thing About It" and "Best Performance" categories. Because holy balls, what a steaming load that was. It's not even suitable as high camp, as so-bad-it's-good, thanks to the wildly inconsistent directorial tone. The rap on M. Night Shyalaman (mostly deserved) has always been that he's a great director and an increasingly shitty writer. Good news, though, now he's a shitty director too! The film is a total failure of tone -- a thriller that never once allows the audience to experience anything close to suspense because the characters and events are so ludicrously impenetrable.

The acting is ... infuriating. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are good actors. Very good actors, if you ask me. Limited, sure, but they're very capable. And even when they're not at their best, they've never been close to the kind of breathless, bewildered lobotomy outpatients that they've become here. It made me angry -- furious, really -- to see two such talented actors being, at best, set adrift in a directionless movie without any sort of instruction at all, and at worst, instructed to act like total weird-asses in service to whatever cockamamie "vision" Shyamalan promised but failed to deliver. There ought to be a law.

Also wasted? The potential of a movie about a toxin that makes you want to kill yourself. Sure, the idea of a malevolent wind carrying poison produced by devious vegetation is kind of stupid, but even THAT could have worked with a better director at hand. But what a paradise the idea of a suicide toxin could have been in the hands of someone better! Night looked like he had the right idea for a moment -- a series of upping and re-upping the ante on new and fucked-up ways of offing yourself. But too many of them came across as silly (that goddamn green-screen-looking lion mauling) and, even with the (pathetically overhyped) R rating, pretty toothless. Night's failure to make this movie into the Hitchcock Junior success that Signs was is one thing, but failing to deliver a proper B-movie instead is just as bad.


1 comment:

StinkyLulu said...

My thoughts are a lot less furious than most. I thought the flick was a genre goof, like everything else M. Night's ever done.

I did finally realize, though, that he doesn't know how to direct actors. I think he's got great taste for actors, and often great casting instincts, but he doesn't always know what to do with them. Poor Mark and Zooey (and I'm not even going to comment on the Leguizamo) -- they just didn't have a hook on the black comedy implicit in the dialogue. (The fact that Breslin, Culkin and Phoenix DID is what made the comparably overwrought Signs work so well, imo.)

The other thing -- about the deaths -- is that he completely boxed himself into a corner. First, he mostly didn't actually show them; we're left to witness the moment just before and just after. This isn't bad, but the concepts need to get freakier as minutes click by (which he didn't do) to maintain the level of horror from that opening. Second, a studio picture could probably never SHOW someone below the age of 16 "reacting to the toxin" but, even then, he carefully skirted even the idea of a teen, or a child, or a baby offing themselves. (The closest we get is the college student on the phone.) If he HAD gone there (ie. having Spencer Breslin take himself out with some of that plastic food), the whole gravitas would have been maintained in a different way. And just imagine what it would have been to see a toddler do it. But M. Night's skittish, and sentimental, and silly...