A film review by Craig J. Koban
2008, R, 90 mins.
2008, R, 90 mins.
Elliot Moore: Mark Wahlberg / Alma Moore: Zooey Deschanel / Julian:
John Leguizamo / Jess: Ashlyn Sanchez / Mrs. Jones: Betty
Buckley / Josh: Spencer Breslin
Director M. Night Shyamalan
Craig, resident film critic of CrAiGeR’s CINEMA CORNER
Your new film 'THE HAPPENING''
was hoping I would never write to you under these circumstances again.
You may not remember me, but I was the same young critic that wrote
to you four years ago just after seeing your fourth film as a director, THE
VILLAGE. Night (can I call you Night?), I must remind you that the
previous letter to you was written with the utmost remorse and sincere
regret, seeing as I was – at the time – one of your staunchest
supporters and fans.
came out with such a forceful bang in 1999 with your multiple
Oscar-nominated supernatural thriller, THE SIXTH SENSE, which highlighted
you as an artist with a keen visual eye that knew how to combine ethereal
and haunting images with a tense and involving script.
Ditto for your follow up, 2001’s UNBREAKABLE, not THE SIXTH
SENSE’s equal, but an wholeheartedly absorbing and compelling effort
(and, for my buck, one of the more intriguing and ingenious super hero
films I’ve ever seen). Then
came your crème de le crème, 2002’s SIGNS, which was your most superb
effort at that point in your illustrious career.
By this juncture your were developing into one of the most
respected new filmmakers of your generation: Comparisons of you to Kubrick,
Hitchcock and Spielberg were levied, and with reasonable accuracy.
I really, really thought that you were getting that good.
it came with no pleasure whatsoever that I wrote to you to criticize your
fourth film, 2004’s THE VILLAGE, which I – dare I say it to you –
placed on my list of 2004’s WORST FILMS…as
the worst film of that year. To
say that I went into that with the highest of expectations was a startling
understatement. After the
brilliance of SIGNS and the incredible surge of creativity you displayed
in your two other great films, I genuinely thought that there was no
stopping you. THE
VILLAGE was, in all fairness, a laughably terrible film effort on your
part that had a premise that simply did not hold itself up even under
modest scrutiny. I will not
attempt to re-open old wounds here again by reiterating my intense
displeasure of that film, not to mention my indiscernible disappointment.
I thought, “Okay, everyone deserves a second chance…let’s just get
over my reaction to THE VILLAGE and go positively on to your next
effort.” I mean, really,
you should have learned from your past mistakes with that film and
certainly were too talented and innovative of a film force to make another
As I wrote to you in 2004, I stated that “I still have faith
in you as an artist and as a talented filmmaker and I think that, no
doubt, you will parachute out of this failure with a finer follow-up
film.” Sigh. Unfortunately,
your follow-up, the egregiously self-indulgent, silly, and frustrating as
hell to sit through LADY IN THE WATER
was not, alas, the savior of your career.
It pained me…most severely…to place that film on my list of 2006’s
WORST. To directly quote
my conclusion for that review, LADY IN THE WATER was “…an
embarrassing turn for the once promising filmmaker that showcases his dark
descent into the most verbose and ostentatious storytelling waters.”
Still…I wanted – oh, how I wanted – to give you a second
benefit of a doubt that you would come through and help me re-discover my
previous admiration for your talent.
of course, brings me to your new post-apocalyptic thriller, THE HAPPENING.
The only thing I can now, with great assuredness, tell you is
that…well…I think you have completely lost it.
There. I said it.
What happened to you, Night? How could one of the most daring, impressively talented, and unique voices in American cinema take such a categorical nosedive? In all of my life’s film viewing, I cannot recall a supremely gifted director that made three initial films that were small masterpieces then churn out not one, not two, but three unyieldingly mediocre films. THE HAPPENING is not only as alienating, puzzling, impenetrable, boring, and dreadfully dull as your last two films, but it just may be…I’m so very sorry…your most awful film as a director. What was, I had hoped, to be a stirring, atmospheric, and scary potboiler of a thriller is instead, with all due fairness, a grotesquely inane and ridiculous story that inspired more unintentional chuckles and giggles than it did legitimate scares.
was not your intention…right?
mean…Night, Night, Night…what was going through your head with this
stinker? If you were
attempting to make a sci-fi cautionary thriller, ala THE DAY THE EARTH
STOOD STILL, but substituting aliens with vengeful plant life, then
mission accomplished. Yet, am
I the only one that thinks that this is just beyond preposterous?
Surely, I believe that you were attempting a solemn and
spin-tingling environmental thriller that wanted to tap into our post-9/11
paranoia and mix that in with a Green peace agenda.
But, jeepers, your execution is so wrong-headed in just about every
way that I found it hard for me to react to the film with anything but
mocking laughter. THE
HAPPENING owes less to the atmospheric chills of Hitchcock, Kubrick, and
Spielberg than it does a painfully inept B-grade sci-fi flicks from the
50’s that the hosts of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000 would later rip
will give my props to you for at least providing, in the opening moments
of the film, an interesting hook. These
scenes have a ghastly aura about them.
We see people in New York inexplicably commit suicide.
One girl takes her hair clip out and jabs it in her neck, and we
later see (in the film’s most gruesome moment) a series of mass suicides
in the form of construction workers leaping off of rooftops.
Then we get a scene where a bunch of New Yorkers off themselves
with the same gun. This is
all disturbing stuff, Night. I
mean…I truly was left baffled as to what was happening…no pun
you introduce us to the players, and it is here where the film takes a
free fall, never to recover. You
introduce us to high school science teacher (played by Mark Wahlberg in
his least plausible performance; his first few lines in the classroom are
clumsy and generate guffaws, a bad sign) and his semi-emotionally troubled
wife (the very cute Zooey Deschanel, who plays perplexed well here), their
friend, a math teacher (John Leguizamo) and his young daughter (Ashlyn
Sanchez, who does what she can with a very minimally written character).
You place these characters in the midst of the “event” in the
film, which is first perceived to be a terrorist bio-attack.
Okay, so we soon learn that this is not a terrorist attack, but the
true revel of who (or in this case, what) the perpetrator is emerges as
the screwiest, most cornball and cockamamie explanation I’ve seen in a
film. I mean, the threat of
terrorists or the US government as the villains has some punch, but it
sure is hard to be intimidated by…foliage.
Maybe you were preparing the makers of the SCARY MOVIE franchise
with their next source material. Funny…because
THE HAPPENING, at times, felt like SCARY MOVIE 5 already.
you script the film’s buildup to a would-be creepy sequence where the
teacher, his girlfriend, and the young girl all find themselves at the
dwelling of a cocky old woman (Betty Buckley), but you reveal her as such
a loose cannon of a geezer that only a complete idiot would agree to spend
the night at her pad. Yet, you
make you characters stay?! Why?!
This makes no sense.
Maybe to provide the film with the obligatory “boo” moments
where she steps out of the shadows at just the right time.
Yet, the film then proceeds from here to show the aftermath of the
airborne suicide-plague to one of the most haphazard explanations / theory
of what transpired that I’ve seen in a film (you give us a two minute
bit of a newscaster interviewing an environmental scientist that fills in
the details) and then, your most cardinal blunder, you give us one of the
biggest non-endings in many a moon. People
in the theatre I was at mumbled intense displeasure under their breaths,
shaking their hands in the air with a “that’s it” vibe.
It’s one thing for your film to build to something and then have
a bad twist at the end, but the way it meanders from one inconsequential
scene to the next, desperately searching for something substantial, and
then offering up no satisfying way of providing a conclusion…I simply
felt indignantly cheated by you, Night.
Even feeble films have the decency to provide some measure of
don’t know what you were thinking casting Wahlberg (maybe because you
cast his brother in a brief turn in THE SIXTH SENSE).
He looks utterly confused with what to do in his performance.
Deschanel plays confused well, mainly because she is often
staring at Wahlberg’s confusion.
Leguizamo is barely an entity here.
Some moments of light comedy are sprinkled here to horrendous
effect. A scene where you have Wahlberg having a conversation with a
plastic plant is awkward, as is attempts to develop his relationship with
Deschanel. These are
appealing actors, but you never made me give a damn about them.
Their dialogue and exchanges are dead on arrival.
know what’s worse, Night: your esoteric fingerprints are nowhere
to be seen here. You have displayed yourself to be so exceptional in the past
with crafting a macabre mood and tension, but THE HAPPENING shows none of
your instinctive footprints. Instead,
we get gore and violence, which, let’s face it, any hack can do.
This is your first R-rated film (it was cheaply advertised as such)
but some moments of carnage are kind of ludicrous.
You give us one scene where a character looks at a video on her
cell-phone of an infected man allowing himself to be eaten alive by tigers
and lions in a zoo. This
moment was about as hammy as a Monty Python sketch.
The worst habit that your film has is that it constantly shows us
nonchalant shots of trees, bushes, and plants billowing in the air that
are punctuated by James Newton Howard’s “be scared right here”
specific score. Night…tress
and bushes are not scary, nor is wind.
Okay, a lingering fart in the wind is scary, but not by itself.
Oh…but wait…you want nature to be the ominous and omnipotently
dangerous presence. Maybe if
you had Al Gore swinging around naked through windy trees, then maybe, just
maybe, I could see nature as a real threat.
think I need to wrap up here, Night.
First, I want to really thank you for allowing me to vent here to
you. I am sure it is really
difficult to read one of your fans ridicule your most recent work with
such a fevered passion. Yet,
you deserve upfront honesty, and I honestly and passionately think
that THE HAPPENING is your most alarmingly dull, innocuous, outlandish,
and sleep inducing thriller yet. You
give us a half-baked parable of 9/11 panic-obsessed culture alongside an
absurdly silly eco-centric message (be good to plants, or else).
Perhaps your biggest sin here is that nothing interesting or
captivating happens throughout all of the THE HAPPENING.
Instead of constantly gripping my theatre seat armrests, I was
checking my watch and looking for the quickest exit-escape route.
Instead of making a numbing, sobering, and scary cautionary
thriller with a grotesque bite, the film feels like a bad, nightmarish
parody of the work you were trying to make.
After I saw LADY IN THE WATER I stated that - if you did not come
out swinging with your next film - it would be three strikes against you,
resulting in your regretful demise as the heir apparent of Spielberg.
The biggest letdown of THE HAPPENING is that it was a strike three
pitch right across the plate that you did not even bother swinging at.
In short, and in summation…I am at a complete loss for words, Night. You have made three of my favorite entertainments of the last ten years…but now you have made three of the worst. I once considered myself an unparalleled fan and appreciator of your work.
not so sure. There is something happening to you...and I
don't know what.
your next film…please…I beg you…make me a believer again.