UKHS’ Ecstasy & Agony #2:
The Agony of THE HAPPENING (2008) by James Pemberton
It’s day two of our special limited run Ecstasy & Agony series, where we UKHS staff take it in turns to dissect a film we love and a film we bloody hate. Following Duane’s glowing appraisal of Dead & Buried yesterday (which you can read HERE), it’s James Pemberton’s turn to step up, with ol ‘ JP letting loose at flop-king M. Night Shyamalan’s clag-a-thon The Crappen- sorry – Happening…
Bad films can be fun and entertaining. Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2 and the more recent The Room generally have a fun appeal to them, especially when you’re watching them with a crowd. There’s a sense of community in viewing something that has been so badly put together– strung up with piss-poor dialogue, acting and special effects– that brings people together in recognising its charm and lack of wanting to be a good film, even though the majority of the directors, where hoping that what they were making would be of some merit.
But when you get films that are just bad, that have no redeeming features and leave you generally confused as to how– and why — they were made… You’re cheated; robbed of time and money. In choosing a film that I hate, though I’d rather use the term “don’t like”, I thought back to an experience of watching a film in the cinema that left me feeling like that.
At first I thought of using the awful 2010 Nightmare On Elm Street, but then I thought it was just a remake after all. Then I thought about the most recent Texas Chainsaw film, the 3D one, but then realised I’d watched that for free. Then I thought back to 2008 when I went to see M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening; a frustratingly ponderous and awful movie. It sounded good on paper but ended up being, well, just plain awful.
Considering I was impressed by some of Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, and felt that his previous films such as The Sixth Sense and Signs had some good elements to them but where pretty flawed for the most part, I was slightly hesitant about watching The Happening at first. But after seeing the trailer and thinking it interesting, I one day found myself going to an afternoon screening, with a slight idea of what was in store.
The story focuses on a mysterious event that, well, happens: when people suddenly stop moving in central park and then start killing themselves, this carry’s on in a well staged scene, where construction workers start throwing themselves off the building they’re currently labouring on. Soon the whole country is affected by this mysterious virus and it’s up to our central characters in the film — a married couple going through a rocky relationship patch, played by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel — to avoid what is, erm, happening and figure it all out, meeting various odd ball characters along the way.
So what’s wrong with it? Well, first things first, after seeing it I came out of the cinema feeling confused and wondering just what on earth I have seen, and why the film felt like double its ninety minute run time.
Shyamalan claimed that this film is a fun B-movie. Wrong, on both counts. First of all this is not a B-movie: it had a budget of $48 million. Secondly this is not fun, far from it: it’s slow, inept, badly acted… It’s not fun-bad in the way Troll 2 or The Room is, and a lot of B-movies derive their fun and appeal from cheap effects, and small budgets, as they can possess a certain charm that can be entertaining.
The Happening is and looks professional and everyone in it looks confused or dumbfounded as to what they’re saying. B-movies again can have actors delivering scenery chewing dialogue to great over acted effect; everyone in this film looks stilted. As you watch the film and after the strong opening you end up looking as puzzled as Mark Wahlberg does. It’s absurd dialogue and characters, particularly the nutty home owner Mrs Jones [Betty Buckley] who invites our characters to shelter inside her home and acts almost as crazy as the people outside being affected by the deadly toxin.
Oh yes that’s right, I almost forgot: the threat of this movie is not a monster or some alien being or evil human. It is… Wait for it… SPOILER ALERT… Plants! Yes, plants are releasing a deadly toxin and killing off humans. We get scenes of the threat of plants, when some wind blows towards a group of nearby humans and all they can do is run away from the wind and the stationary plants. Though weirdly it doesn’t affect anyone who gives off ‘good vibes’ which might have been clear on the screenplay but, in the finished film, just doesn’t make sense.
Much of the film on a whole doesn’t make sense. Shyamalan’s proclamation that the film is a ‘fun B-movie’ might have been the reasoning behind the bad dialogue, but rather than ending up camp and over the top it’s just bad. Wahlberg has admitted that he regretted working on the film and it’s not hard to see why. Hopefully deep down Shyamalan knows he’s directed an awful, awful stinker of a movie. Ironically, one of the characters in the film has a Avatar: The Last Airbender backpack, and Shyamalan would go on to direct The Last Airbender film two years later. It’s rubbish too.
After watching The Happening again recently in preparation for this article I still find the film clunky, annoying, slow and with a script with lines that sound like they could be delivered with more gravitas by the worst local amateur dramatics society you could find. Admittedly seeing it again it’s not as painful as the first time (when I saw it at the cinema I got that bored that I started counting how many emergency lights where on in the auditorium), but it still leaves me feeling confused as to what’s going on, how long this will last and how has this been made. So much so that I left it running whilst I got up to make a cup of tea and go to the toilet.
I’ve seen The Room about fifteen plus times. I think I’ll leave my Happening viewership at just two.