Friday, June 13, 2008

I See Dead People: Mass Suicide Plagues Mankind in “The Happening”

Watching people commit suicide is not necessarily something that I call first rate entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching movies with violence and gore and none of particularly bothers me psychologically. However, something about watching someone take their own life (in particularly gruesome ways) is something beyond disturbing. However, once-hot director M. Night Shyamalan has come up with a new story about something in the air that causes humans to hurt themselves, badly. People start jumping off roofs and laying down in front of lawn mowers in “The Happening.” It’s an interesting premise that is more disturbing than scary and the film as a whole is enjoyable in the typical Shyamalan way. However, if you’re seriously disturbed by the idea of people offing themselves, I’d advise to steer clear. At least Shyamalan does handle the situation in a way that is far from poor taste. Had Eli “Hostel” Roth tackled the subject, I’m sure the reviews would be even worse for this film.

Okay so here’s the deal. I’m not going to give too much away, but I will say some express some positives the movie has and some negatives. Let’s start with the positives. The premise is fascinating and disturbing. The film does actually benefit from Shyamalan’s direction because he truly knows that it’s what we don’t see that scares us. And yes this is a much more violent film that his previous PG-13 efforts, but he doesn’t linger (too much) on the gory details. He figures the subject matter is disturbing enough by itself, so there isn’t lots of brain matter splattered across the screen. But there are violent images that many will be concerned by. So the film is creepy and disturbing, which is ultimately its goal. And composer James Newtown Howard does provide another standout Shyamalan music score. Let’s seriously applaud Shyamalan for having an actual opening title sequence that actual helps set up mood. Too many films today dive too quickly into the movie without setting up atmosphere.

However, there are a lot of negatives here. Mostly due to the overall silliness that the whole story provides. Basically we get Mark Wahlberg as a biology teacher who is informed that there’s been a possible “terrorist attack” in New York City. It seems that some kind of gas or chemical has been released into the air that has caused disorientation in people which ultimately results in those affected taking their own lives. Most of the film’s dialogue is dedicated to characters discussing what could really be causing this and some of the theories are down right silly. At least the silliness helps to relieve some of the stress caused by the overwhelmingly unsettling premise. Wahlberg has hit a snag in his marriage to Zooey Deschanel and she mostly gives a bizarre and weird performance that felt sort of awkward. I mean the world’s about to end, and all they seem to do is talk about how their marriage is on the rocks. Anyways, it’s recommended that everyone in Philadelphia evacuate in case the chemicals or whatever are released in Pennsylvania. What follows is a sort of “War of the Worlds” paranoia in which we watch a family deal with a mass threat to mankind. I sort of didn’t really like how the characters reacted to everything that was going on. They seemed to not take into account that the air was deadly when traveling outdoors. Um, hello, at least cover your mouths! And a scene that involved people running from the wind was sort of more comical than truly terrifying.

Ultimately, “The Happening” is a movie with a interesting enough premise that it is worth seeing and forming your own opinion. I enjoyed the nods to “The Birds” in which perhaps it may not be a mankind threat but something more ecological in nature. If you’re expecting a typical twist ending you’ll be disappointed. In fact the movie just sort of ends for no other reason really than it’s just time to end. The film provides chills without the scary monsters, which was sort of the film’s point. It is so easy for humans to perish, that sometimes we don’t realize we’re our own worst enemy. GRADE: B-


10 comments:

Kevin said...

so when's the happening review gonna happen?!?!

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