June 21, 2008

The Happening - $6

I know I'm going to take abuse for this one, but I liked The Happening.

M. Night Shyamalan brings his unique writing and directing style to the screen once again in a story about people fleeing from something, but not knowing what they are fleeing from. The Happening begins in Central Park in New York City where everyone suddenly stops talking and walking and they begin killing themselves with a varied series of slow and eerily unemotional actions. It begins to be reported as a terrorist attack and then the suicides begin happening all over the North East coast of the US.

The main story centers around a high school science teacher in Philadelphia named Elliot who is fleeing from the affected areas with his wife Alma. As it becomes more and more clear that terrorists could not be responsible for these events Elliot becomes desperate to determine the cause so that he can keep his wife safe.

Let me start by saying what I didn't like about The Happening, because don't get me wrong when I say I liked this movie, it was not great and it is by far M. Night's weakest movie so far.

The Happening does not develop its characters with the exception of Elliot and Alma. The usual long pulled back shots that make M. Night's movies so visually stimulating weren't on display here nearly as much. My main problem with the Happening was an extremely out of place series of scenes at about the 3/4 mark of the movie. The scenes were eerie in their own way but the movie got away from its main plot for a while there and it was distracting. I'm attempting to not give a spoiler her but I'm sure that those of you who've seen The Happening know what I'm talking about.

I liked a few things a lot in this movie though. The pacing was great, I love the slow methodical way that M. Night tells a story. I also found the opening scenes extremely creepy and affective and I loved the way that the story focused on the calm exodus of people who really weren't sure what they were running from. The result is people who aren't in a panic, though their fear is tangible. There were moments of humour in The Happening that worked very well also.

I read a bunch of reviews of The Happening to see if I was the only one who liked this movie and I was relieved to find that the man himself found more to like than dislike here, "It is no doubt too thoughtful for the summer action season, but I appreciate the quietly realistic way Shyamalan finds to tell a story about the possible death of man." - Roger Ebert

I enjoyed most of The Happening but I didn't love it. Mark Wahlberg was good at times as Elliot, but he was out of place at other times. I thought Zooey Deschanel was great as Alma but unfortunately there weren't really any other well developed characters to talk about. John Leguizamo actually gives a very good performance as Elliot's best friend and he really should have had more screen time.

I'm going to do something I've never done before on this site and that is to not recommend a movie that I liked. I'm putting The Happening on my 'Don't Watch It' because I don't think many people will enjoy it. For me the value was good though and I rate The Happening at $6.


Jeff said...

Well Dave, you know I think you were too generous with your rating. I'm not going to waste your time bashing this movie because I can see that you saw the flaws. I have to say though, that I thought you were especially kind to mention the writing and the character development. I thought the writing was very poor. And yes there was character development, but it was so typical that I felt like I was watching a kids television show about saving the environment.

Wise of you not to recommend this movie. I thought it was almost unwatchable.

Tony Tanti said...

jeff, I think you missed my point on the character development, I was saying there wasn't really any except for the main two characters.

Like I said, I liked it but it wasn't great. Our experiences must have been quite different though it this was unwatchable to you.

Trev said...


A fair review. I can see where you're coming from on this movie. However, I completely adored this movie. I'm gonna go ahead and say this flick was delighfully cheesy. So many lines in the movie were reminiscent of 80's horrors, that I just couldn't help but smile. I truly understand M.Night's angle on this one, and most people missed it or simply got it but discarded it.

Question for you Toni, what other characters were you expecting to see develop in this movie?

Tony Tanti said...

trev, nice to hear that someone loved this movie.

I would have liked to see Elliot's friend developed a lot more, and the young girl as well. I really needed more background on the crazy woman too, who was she? Why was she so weird and anti-technology?

jeff said...

tanti, even the main character were developed poorly though. I don't think characters were really a concern of M. Night in this movie. I think trev has got it right when he says it was cheesy 80's horror. I guess there is a fine line between delightfully cheesy and painfully cheesy. I wouldn't have minded the cheesy aspect if there was a fun movie in there somewhere. but the blend of dark subject matter and thoughtless dialog just did not work for me.

jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jon said...

i'm seeing the Happening tonight but I like the M Night ratings, so here's mine:

Signs $10
Village $9
Sixth Sense $8
Unbreakable $8
Lady in Water $6

angie said...

Signs $9
Sixth Sense $9
Village $8
Unbreakable $7
Lady in Water $6

Trev said...

Jeff, I know where you're coming from on this. I don't think M. Night is trying to hit a mass crowd anymore. After all, he stuck to his guns with the "lady in the water" script despite Disney saying "we don't get it". He's now making cult classics (in my opinion) and is rapidly forming an exclusive and tight fan base.

I can't help but to get sucked right into his "fresh" movies. He doesn't seem to follow any set pattern. But I can definately see how this movie would be unbearable to most, for some reason it just had the opposite effect on me.

Like I said Toni, a fair review. And I see what you mean about character development. I can't defend this movie at all, but man it was awesome.

jon said...

color me disappointed. I'll give it $5, but only because of the scenes with Mrs. Jones. they were phenomenal.

otherwise i'm afraid trev may be right. it appears m night is trying to make tv movies now.

i'd probably give this a 5, but most of the time i was wanting to like it, and while i wasn't bored or laughing so much, i was certainly wondering what happened to all m night's awesome cinematography, musical scores, and casting.

thanks for the heads up. managed to be an enjoyable night at the movies, mostly because my expectations were low and i just tried to enjoy it.

Tony Tanti said...

Good summation Jon. The TV movie thing feel may be a result of M. Night having a hard time finding funding for his movies. He's had to make Lady and The Happening with less money than he'd hoped and while I could see him having trouble getting funding now (two flops in a row) it's tough to understand why he had a hard time after his first 4 great movies.

Here's a conspiracy theory, is this hollywood racism? M. Night struggled to get Lady in the Water funded, this is after 4 movies that made a lot of money, $250 million (lowest) and $600 million (highest).

Any thoughts?

Tony Tanti said...

Great rankings by the way Jon and Angie. Anyone else wanna weigh in with your ranking of M. Night's library?

jeff said...

sure I'll do it.

Sixth Sense $9
Unbreakable $9
Signs $8
Village $6
Lady in Water $4
The Happening $0

Tony Tanti said...

$0, really Jeff? By that standard you must rank a lot of movies at 0. I'm also shocked to see The Village so low for you, I love that movie.

Fletch said...

Have yet to see The Happening, but my rankings of those I have seen would look like this:

6th Sense - $9
Unbreakable - $8
Signs - $7.50
Village - $7
Lady Water - $3

Trev said...

Jon, for the record I didn't call them "tv movies". I just think M. Night is going out on a limb with his scripts and filming techniques. I thought "the happening" was brilliant in how up-close and personal all the shots were. I doubt budget had much to do with it; his pockets go deep enough to pull off what he needed. It just simply wasn't a movie for everyone, which doesn't make it "bad" in my opinion.

Sixth sense - $8
Unbreakable - $10
Signs - $9
The Village - $10
Lady/Water - $7
Happening - $8

Shea said...

Sixth Sense $10
Signs $9
Unbreakable $8
The Village $6
Lady in the $4
The Hap $5

I liked this for what it was... a modern day attempt of a Hitchcock movie... it had just as many elements that worked as it did ones that didnt.

jon said...

trev, yeah it didn't mean to imply you had called it a tv movie. that's all me.

i love the $0 rating for the happening. definitely if village is a 6 then happening has to come in pretty low.

truth is, most movies i would rank $0. I can tell right from the trailer that i have absolutely no part of my life to dedicate to such torturous excuses for entertainment. i'd have to be paid to see them. its tough to put a percentage on it, but probably half the movies made are $0 or lower for me.

every once in a while i get a glimmer of what i'm missing. ended up watching half of the devil wears prada with some family a while back. didn't even rate it one star (for awful) because it deserves the richter scale, not a movie rating. what a disaster. those are 45 minutes i will never get back. i'm a worse person for seeing these $0 dollar films.

i don't agree that "the hap" is one of them, but i love the category.

jeff said...

Dave, I think I've been pretty clear that I hated everything about this movie. So why would I not give it a $0 rating? And I don't think that it's something I would ascribe to most movies.

As for the Village, I'll admit, I would have given this a much higher rating the first time I saw it, but after several viewings I have grown to dislike it a fair bit. I only rate it at $6 to honour the initial enjoyment I got from it.

Tony Tanti said...

I hear ya Jeff, clearly The Hap was a massive let down for you. I'm not shocked at your $0 rating based on what you've said, I just can't relate.

Shea, thanks for weighing in, good ratings.

Jon, great richter scale rhetoric.

Tony Tanti said...

I decided to put some examples down of what I liked and didn't like about this one over at This Side of Sunday. Here's what I said:

Maybe it's just that I've seen so many terrible movies lately (see my post with short reviews of movies on the plane) but it's hard for me to hear this movie called terrible. It wasn't brilliant by any stretch and it wasn't as engaging as some of his other work, but I enjoyed moments. Let me state some moments I thought were good to see if I'm out to lunch here:

The early scenes of people being affected were really creepy to me. The whole emotionless way they were committing such an emotional act worked for my viewing experience. The girl shoving the hair thing into her neck slowly, the copy shooting himself, the bodies hitting the ground, the people hung in trees later on who had clearly made great effort to hang themselves. I just don't see how these scenes are terrible filmmaking.

What was terrible was the attempt at making blowing grass scary, that missed the mark. The lion eating the Zoo employee was one of the lamer movie scenes I've witnessed. It was almost as poorly done as all of 10,000 BC.

jeff said...

i don't know Dave, it was all just laid on so thick. these were all gimics. the brilliance of his previous movies was how he built up the scenes and got you on edge. these were just cheap cheap thrills and I didn't find them the least bit thrilling. and whole "stone face" suicide gag got old fast too.

jon said...

you wouldn't give most movies a $0 rating jeff?

every movie i don't see on purpose gets a $0 rating from me.

my favourite thing to do during commercials and previews is (when appropriate) to vow never to see that movie. its the only way i can stay sane watching all the same old crap pumped at my eyeballs.

yeah, the stone-faced deaths did not do it for me either. but some of the scenes were effectively eerie. the landscapers hanging.

mrs. jones should have been the whole movie. Here's your plot. the bees are gone. people are dying. mrs. jones has bees and wahlberg finds her, but can't escape.

different movie, but better. those jones scenes were highly memorable contributions to the m. night canon, and pretty much the only thing i take away from this whole experience, other than a weakly executed reminder that the earth could fail us at any second (unless you believe in sovereign providence).

Trev said...


I'm genuinely confused. Gimmick? The movie is called "The Happening"...what did you expect to see aside from a major "happening"? Was the move "signs" a gimmick because of all the time spent on 'signs'? I've never seen deaths happen this way before in a movie; I just don't see how in an hour and half, the concept could already 'get old'. It sounds to me jeff (based on your rating of Lady in the Water) that you're really wanting the old days back with M. Night, but I don't think it's going to happen. How you could not be affected by those early scenes is beyond me, but to say he didn't build up a mood/get the viewers on edge I think is a bit of a stretch. There were a lot of screams going on in my theatre!

jeff said...

Trevor, there are a lot of screams in a lot of terrible movies. that is in no way an indication of a good movie or a well constructed mood. I don't get your point about the title of the movie, or what that has to do with me not liking it. The gimick of the movie was that it was just a series of people killing themselves in new and different ways. you could usually figure out how they were going to do it well before it happened and you had to sit and watch it.

I don't think I am expecting early M. Night movies at all. this movie does not need to be compared to any of his early movies . . . it was horrible all on its own. Actually i think quite the opposite is true. I think anyone who enjoyed this movie did so only because they are such a big fan of his earlier work. and just because he doesn't make his movies with a nauseating pace to them they get called "thoughtful."

We are obviously not going to come to an agreement on this movie. You and Dave obviously found something in this movie that I did not see.

Jon, I don't know why I wouldn't give most movies $0. Maybe I just don't see enough of the new stuff to know. I feel like most movies have SOMETHING redeeming about them. Am I wrong? We can talk about that some other time . . . these comments have gotten out of hand. I feel I have over stayed my welcome.

Trev said...

Hey Jeff,

I can appreciate your opinion of the movie, I just found the $0 rating to be overly cynical. But I can see that you truly feel that way about the flick.

You're right, I am definately biased when it comes to M. Night; if anyone else did this movie I would probably give it a lower rating. However, like every previous film done by M. Night, I went into the theatre expecting to see something I've never seen before and he delivered in spades in my opinion.

But hey, I wasn't meaning to contribute to any kind of "gang up on Jeff" session, I was just really intrigued by your take on this film.

jon said...

don't get me wrong trev and dave and whoever else liked the movie, i enjoyed different parts of it myself, but i agree with what jeff is saying.

it didn't feel to me like this movie was really about a "happening" so much as it was about a bunch of visual hooks. this can work, but not when the extras are so bad and the explanation of the "event" is so sketchy and implausible. i needed a better story.

perhaps that's too much to ask of an 80s horror flick (which someone rightly compared this to). fair enough. but i didn't like 80s horror flicks. that is simply going to have to be where m night and i part ways.

they used the old star trek ploy (now used by every cop and doctor show on tv) of throwing a few words of jargon out there so we'll just accept that plants can make people's neurons misfire in such a way that they'll stop and kill themselves and move on with the stunts and effects. this told me that it really wasn't about the "happening" so much as it was about these stunts and effects.

in the end, to me the whole thing felt like an episode of scooby-doo. that's cool, but i don't think i'd go see scooby doo in theatres. i certainly wouldn't have expected it from m night. but heck, he always gives ya something to talk about. i look forward to his next project. chances are it will be different, at least.

Tony Tanti said...

Great comments all. You can never overstay your welcome here Jeff, I love it when I get tons of comments on a review.

Everyone experiences a movie differently and the more I think about it the more average I think the Happening was, I still enjoyed enough to not feel ripped off though. I love that in this debate we have all the extremes, Jeff hated it, Trev loved it, Jon disliked it somewhat and I liked it somewhat.

I do hope his next movie is better, this one and Lady in the Water were letdowns, though I liked Lady more, so I need another great one from him. He should just do an Unbreakable sequel.

jeff said...

scooby-doo, that's funny. I regrettably did see scooby-doo in the theatre!

yeah, i enjoyed this debate as well. you know, this is not the first time I've been called too cynical based my watch it comments. but hey, you can kill someone with kindness too.

elgringo said...

I didn't hate The Happening either.

There were some great sequences that kept me entertained up until near the end.

The script's worst enemy was the dialogue. It's always hard to see some great actors deliver some awful lines.