Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Review: The Happening

I find myself often trying to write long reviews for the sake of writing long reviews, which then makes the task of actually writing the review that much more onerous. So instead, I'm going to try and break down my opinions into a bit more of a compact form, and hopefully only say stuff I feel strongly about. Not sure how I really want to structure it yet, so some of this may change from review to review:

There's a really quite interesting and creepy premise to this film, but once it becomes obvious what's happening, the film has nowhere to go. It's an interesting choice to throw us into the story with no background, but it means that we need to click with them straight away, and this really doesn't happen. The relationship between Wahlberg and Deschanel feels forced and flat, and Ashlyn Sanchez has so little to do it's almost embarrassing. The genuinely creepy moments are presented very well, and have real effect, but between them are great swathes of expositional diologue and flat, tension-free group scenes.

It's a real pity, because I think there's a good film in there wanting to be made, but it needs someone other than Shyamalan to write it. I like M. Night Shyamalan as a film-maker (I haven't seen Lady in the Water, but I enjoyed Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Village), and I don't think that someone can make those three excellent films by accident. However, there's none of the coherence of these previous films in The Happening. It felt like it should have been a combination of War of the Worlds and Day of the Triffids, but it had none of the dynamic panic scenes of the former, and none of the slow griding tension of the latter.

In fact, once the first half hour has gone past, the pace slows so much that the only tension comes from the introduction of new characters. The continued threat from the large-scale events is often ignored in favour of shock-tactics and gore. Finally the ending itself is meaningless fluff that means nothing because we don't feel any attraction to the characters.

If the feeling given by the few bits of intense creepiness had been more pervasive throughout the film, if the characters had been more interesting, and if the ending had felt in any way satisfying, this could have been an interesting piece of film making. Instead we have something that feels like Shyamalan thought of an idea and a structure, but didn't have enough skill to fill out the rest with any sort of effectiveness. Instead of suspense, fear and shock, the only thing this film leaves audiences feeling is disappointment.

Mark Wahlberg: I couldn't work out whether his character was meant to be slightly simple, or whether he was just doing a really bad job. Not a horrible performance, but the script gives him nothing to work with.

Zooey Deschanel: Stands next to Wahlberg and looks pretty. Which is pretty much all she's asked to do.

John Leguizamo: Struggles to provide an interesting character, but he's not onscreen enough to be anything more than one dimensional.

Ashlyn Sanchez: So underused it's painful.

Cinematography: Good. A number of really striking images, and deals well with limited options in the second two thirds of the film.

Script: The weakest part of the film, when it runs out of plot exposition to put in diologue, it doesn't know where to go.

Good because: It's genuinely creepy at times.

Bad because: It doesn't know where it's going or how to keep you interested until it gets there. It never gives anyone anything interesting to say.

If this film were a fruit, it would be a delicious looking satsuma, that turns out upon peeling to be watery and full of pips. The disappointment is all the worse because it could have been so very delicious.



James said...

Yeah, I still feel no compulsion at all to see this film. Sixth Sense and Unbreakable were both good, then came Signs and The Village which I found irritating and boring. Shyamalan seems to be the definition of flash in the pan.

TheTelf said...

The Village was a brilliant film. And in any case, surely the definition of flash in the pan would be one great film rather than two? The second proves the first was not a fluke.