June 17, 2008

300 Words About: The Happening

It's OK, Jess, it's OK. At least we're not in the theater watching this.

"We've sensed it. We've seen the signs. Now...It's Happening." That's not just the official tagline for The Happening, it's also a perfect summation of my expectations of M. Night Shyamalan's latest offering. I "sensed" it would be the uncontested worst film of the year, I saw the "signs" (simply his last movie, Lady in the Water), and now, indeed, it "happened". On Friday the 13th, Shyamalan pulled the veil off his latest disaster, and once again people are flocking to see it. I vowed I wouldn't pay for it. In a fit of confusion, I ended up paying for it. At least I illegally paid the student price, saving $1.50 in one of my wisest financial decisions in years.

To paraphrase the classic bit from Denny Green, it's clear that Shyamalan "is who we thought he was": the most self-righteous and contemptuous filmmaker currently working in Hollywood. It would defy logic to argue that he's unaware of how bad his movies are, but instead of seeking to make any improvements, he stubbornly continues to try to convince us that we're idiots, and that his conspicuous messages are the new gospel for mankind.

That's the real problem. It's not that the writing and acting are horrid, or that sense and logic are missing from the first frame onward, or that the thrills and chills are about five movies tired now after The Sixth Sense. It's not the terrible supporting characters or the unconvincing special effects or even the worst fake newscasts I've ever seen.

It's that in the middle of all of this, just when the movie should start making fun of itself, Shyamalan again throws a serious message or clichéd
fright (e.g., doll on the bed) at us. In short, the difference between garbage like Jumper or Meet the Spartans (my favorite whipping post if you didn't notice) and garbage like The Happening is that garbage like The Happening tries to be serious.

Although Shyamalan preaches, "This is the best B movie that you will ever see," his sincere attempts at romance, suspense, and drama, combined with the heavy-handed message about Mother Nature's wrath, prove (at least to me) that he's just making excuses for the terrible reception. He had plenty of opportunity to make this over-the-top ridiculous - if that was his intention. Instead, he predictably implies that we're morons for not getting it.

I saw The Happening to find out if he could make a movie more offensively awful than Lady in the Water. Is it? I still don't know since i
t seems comparing two epically bad movies is as difficult as comparing two epically good ones, but I nevertheless truly recommend seeing either one (don't pay for it) in order to sharpen your movie senses.


  1. Yeah, I did not pay for it when I saw it, and I am totally glad about that.

  2. Whatever you can do to prevent box-office success that will allow this to continue:

    The Sixth Sense: $293 million
    Unbreakable: $94 million
    Signs: $228 million
    The Village: $114 million
    Lady in the Water: $42 million

  3. At least the best one made the most money.

    Enjoyed your review btw, I agree wholeheartedly.

  4. I may be reaching here, Daniel, and what I'm going to suggest is possibly very unfair, but I get the impression that Shyamalan may be suffering from some sort of mental illness. I mean, when does defending your artistic vision begin to resemble a kind of disconnect from reality?

    Regardless, it remains a fascinating mystery why a director who was so promising coming out of the gate could have stumbled so badly - again.

  5. Thanks, Nick. Yours was dead-on as usual.

    I'm actually in a position to correct myself here. Matt and I disagreed when we left The Happening about how much his previous movies had made. Somehow I pulled out $120 million for Lady in the Water. It only hurts that much more to know that HE STILL DIDN'T "GET IT" after it completely bombed. Anyone who says "I respect him because he follows his vision despite the critics and hatred" needs to really seriously consider that statement.

    Rick, believe it or not you're not making much of a reach - I've heard the same theory in a few places as of late. I'm not sure I accept it, but I have little evidence to refute it.

    Look, the guy could very well be charming, great with kids, an excellent chef, a black belt in karate and a talented tuba player - but get him behind a camera and your life may be in danger. Some things are best left to those who know what they're doing.

  6. Yeah, Shyamalan is suffering from a mental illness: George Lucas syndrome.

    It's that in the middle of all of this, just when the movie should start making fun of itself, Shyamalan again throws a serious message or clichéd fright (e.g., doll on the bed) at us. Yes, the difference between garbage like Jumper or Meet the Spartans (my favorite whipping post if you didn't notice) and garbage like The Happening is that garbage like The Happening tries to be serious.

    You hit the nail on the head right there. It's so self-serious that it's laughable. It puts it in a different class than the puerile crap like "Meet the Spartans," but that film had no ambition, while Shyamalan clearly thinks he is amazing, as evidenced by his "best B movie ever" quote.

    "The Happening" is a mess.

  7. Rick, I don't know about the mental illness thing, but I've never seen anybody go down that fast before. After "Signs" it's like somebody turned off a switch that enabled him to make reasonable movies (note I didn't say "great"). Maybe an illness is the best explanation, even if it's only Matthew's "Lucas Syndrome." (actually, that might be a "twist" in a Shyamalan flick: everybody is making eerily bad movies, and instead of pissed-off plants or being dead they're possessed by George Lucas. Be afraid, be very afraid ...)

  8. Indeed, Matthew. Your review was nice and nasty as well - loved it.

    I'm fine with him being ambitious, but I think it's ludicrous for him to pretend like he worked so hard to make a bad movie, and that we should appreciate it for that fact. Who would do that? Truth is, he worked hard to make a good movie, it ended up being terrible, and now he's changed his tune.

    Haha maybe, Rick. He and Lucas should get together and see what happens - it could either be the greatest or the worst movie of all time. At this point I'd bet on the latter.

  9. Thanks Daniel. That wasn't my official review though, look for that to be published tomorrow. A lot of it will be familiar I'm sure, as much of it is pieced together from that post and many comments I have been making around the web the last few days. But I spruced it up and added to it to make a real nasty takedown.

    I don't to write those very often, but they sure are fun. :-P

  10. Oh yes, I will look for the official review then. It really is fun to do this from time to time, but it's more of a guilty pleasure than something I really want to spend a lot of energy on. There are much better movies to see.


    This was the least subtle movie since An Inconvenient Truth.

    That being said, I enjoyed it quite a bit. There were some sequences which you could tell were storyboarded beautifully and, luckily for us, they transfered nicely onto the screen.

    No twist ending. That was refreshing. The dialogue. Not so refreshing.



  12. Wait a minute, what? Where did you get a "global warming" message from?


    About the only positive "praise" I'm comfortable giving here is agreement with your mention of the storyboarding. The street/cop/gun scene obviously stands out, but, well, that's about it for me. But you go ahead and like it. Seriously, I'm not the person to say who can like what and why.

    Regarding the ending - perhaps the biggest twist was that I actually stuck around to see it...

  13. Haha, that's rad. The movie sort of seemed to play in reverse, at least action wise. It starts out crazy and then slows down scene by scene until the end where nothing happens. Interesting? Maybe not.

  14. Wow did I HATE this movie ... I saw it (unreviewed) last week with some friends from work and we wanted to try to like it, we hoped against hope that it would be worthwhile, ... but it was, as everyone here has discovered already, beyond horrible. Ughhhh. Just plain Ughhh. Worse than Lady in the Water in my opinion.

    Daniel, maybe the fact "… that the writing and acting are horrid" was not the real problem, as you eloquently argue with your subsequent paragraphs, but it was enough of a problem for me that I lost interest almost immediately. The intriguing comment from elgringo about the action and/or whole movie playing out in reverse maybe helps clarify why I was increasingly and often A) bored enough to check my watch - again, and B) laughing out loud at the preposterous stupidity on the screen. Neither one being an activity that I enjoy in any way, or actually find myself having to resort to in my normal movie-watching life. I mean, I hated Jumpers too, but that was more of a shake-my-head in disbelief at the primal dumbness of it all --- this was more like unmitigated torture. I'm sorry Daniel, but I just can't agree with your last sentence that anyone, for any reason, should ever be recommended to see this film. Ever. :-P

  15. I think the difference is that I expected exactly what I got with The Happening, while Lady in the Water shook me to my core, like a punch in the stomach. The Happening may have been as bad or even worse, but one week on, I'm now thinking Lady in the Water did more lasting damage to my mind.

    Yeah I didn't think about the action, either, elgringo. The first five minutes have about as much as the rest of the movie combined. In fact, I'm at this moment again stunned at how terribly anticlimactic the ending was:

    "The event must have ended right before we went out."

    Oh, how convenient. It's obvious that he clearly had no idea how to end the story in a different way. "Uh, well, we're running short on time and I can't think of any more terrible dialogue to draw out the talking-through-pipes scene, so why don't we just say The Event suddenly stops for no apparent reason."

  16. I've just finished watching The Happening and I'm left feeling lost, bewildered, lied to, and gullible. I have so many questions about this movie-- which can all be boiled down to one simple question; "Why?". I just can't wrap my head around why M. Night Shyamalan created this awful movie. Nor why talented actors like Zooey Dechanel and Mark Walburg attached themselves to the project.

    If M. Night wishes to make intentionally sub-par movies as a joke-- I'd suggest he try harder. This movie is so bad, it's not even good at being bad.

  17. Thanks a lot for visiting and commenting.

    I can't really add anything to the brilliance of your statements here, but I will say that I bet Deschanel and Wahlberg are still losing sleep over that same question. I guess the positive would be that the only direction they can go is up? Assuming, of course, they never work with Shyamalan again.

    You know, I just realized The Happening is going to experience (and inflict) more pain upon its DVD release in the next month or two...


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