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Monday, June 23, 2008

Select Rat Antonym: The Happening

So we went out last night with a casual plan to grab some dinner and see whatever was conveniently timed. In truth, Kung Fu Panda was on about 8 minutes after we arrived, but an evil imp whispered in M's ear and told him to select The Happening. Lest I appear to be blaming M, I had no objection to seeing it. We are the last two M. Night Shyamalan apologists in North America, after all. But you'll note that I characterize the imp as evil, and I'm sticking to that designation.

The worst thing about the worst film that M. Night Shyamalan has made is that it's bad in such a broad, mundane way that there's almost nothing to say about it.

To begin with the film's worst sin, The Happening is almost as nondescript visually as its title promises. There are, generously speaking, maybe three or four scene compositions that are at all striking: The construction workers stepping off the buildings (twice negated by its presence in the trailer and—more importantly—amorally cribbing from the images of people jumping from the WTC); a scene in Princeton of city workers who have set up their ladders with the specific purpose of hanging themselves; a long shot, without dialogue, of Marky Mark losing it on the side of the road and sharing an emotional moment with the young girl.

The story is a ridiculous mess, not just on paper, but in how it plays out. We actually uncover the "culprit" fairly early in the movie. However, given that the revelation comes from a stoned, hot-dog-loving Allegheny Mountain man, it's not clear we're meant to take this seriously. Furthermore, after this muddled, mumbled explanation, we get a rather drawn-out, confusing scene culminating in John Leguizamo's death.

Of course, I'm against John Leguizamo's death on principle, but if that doesn't move you, look what happened to Leonardo DiCaprio when he fucked with the John. I digress . . . So John's character has separated from the rest of the group. There's a long, drawn-out scene with him trying to calm the other passengers of the Jeep he's in. The scene cuts to a long shot with the Jeep hitting its breaks (which is rather the opposite of what happens to people on foot, who just "shut down").

The driver then accelerates toward a tree, and several comically fake bodies fly out (none of them hitting the tree itself, which is massive, nearly the entire width of the Jeep's windshield). After a beat, JL emerges from the passenger seat, but we can't really see what's going on with him, as the camera's POV is still from where the Jeep started to accelerate. He sits on the ground, but he doesn't at all look switched off. He looks dazed, traumatized, but he's sitting more or less upright. And, at any rate, this has all gone on so long, I assume we must be introducing something important about the plot. I figured that we were about to learn that some people were immune to the wrath of plants or something, but no, this is just another oddly paced, badly shot suicide.

On a related note, Shyamalan seems to have experienced total breakdown of even film-making 101 skills in the scene (also well known from the trailer) in which the man lies down in front of the industrial lawn mower. Marky Mark urges his companions to RUN (because we're still working on the population density theory, which may or may not be correct). HE then proceeds to stand there while an affected man walks a pretty long way to the mower, turns it on (a complicated procedure, and I'm unsure how or why he knows how to do this, as he's simply supposed to be part of a group of refugees, too, not like Groundskeeper Willie's just been hanging around), waits for the mower to make a long, slow, arc, etc.

During this whole sequence, the POV keeps cutting back to Wahlberg watching, thus reminding us that we are only seeing this because he's standing there watching, all the way up through the woodchipper phase of the proceedings. What. The Hell? Unless that's a character-revealing moment for him (and it doesn't seem to be), what the FUCK is he doing there? And if it is meant to reveal something in him snapping or breaking or resolving or whatever, then you STAY with his POV the whole damned way. I don't even know from whose POV the other shot is supposed to be. The trees, perhaps? Because not only can they "rapidly speed up their evolution" (No no no a thousand fucking times NO), they can apparently create gale-force winds to spread their pissed-offedness.

I'm not sure if I should start in on the dialogue or not. If I start, I may never stop. Thanks to the trailer, I was sick of Marky Mark's "There are FORCES at WORK beYOND our underSTANDing" long ago. (And here's a hint for your, your third nipple, and your dick, Mr. Mark: That's NOT iambic pentameter and if it were, UR doin it rong.) Assaults on line read notwithstanding, in context (context that also includes the phrase "just a theory"), the line reveals him to be the Worst. Science Teacher. Evar.

As for the rest of the movie, much of the dialogue sounds completely unnatural (and not in a deliberate Mametian way), and so much of it is inane and nonsensical that many things I think Shyamalan thinks are clear are far from it: Really, what kind of man is Wahlberg's character? If he's an ambulating sack of bad choices, why is it that others keep looking to him for leadership (I'm prepared to blame J.J. Abrams and Jack whatever his puss is for that phenomenon)? Seriously, does stuffing rags under the door do a goddamned thing? DOES population density have anything to do with Plant!Wrath and how the hell would that work anyway and if it does, what the shit was up with Betty Buckley? Just in general, what was up with Betty Buckley and why does Marky Mark keep calling her character's name as he's standing there staring at a creepy china doll that is QUITE CLEARLY NOT HER, a fact discernible from its feet alone, which we saw at the very beginning of the 3-minute-long shot?

When we came out of the theater, M said, half seriously, "I think someone who hates M. Night Shyamalan made that and put his name on it." Given that even the credits had at least one glaring typo (Craft Servivices), I'm not ruling that out.

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