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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » The Happening (fear the trees! -- and spoilers!)

Author Topic: The Happening (fear the trees! -- and spoilers!)
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(wow, this really is ridiculously long -- my apologies! I type fast and very stream-of-conscious so I didn't even realize I'd written so much until I re-read the post!)

I'm a kind movie-goer. I walk out of flicks thinking "oh, well...that one scene was cute!" and completely forgetting about the other hour and 45 minutes that I spent in confusion and/or boredom. I'm fairly forgiving, I guess is the bottom line.

Not so last night.

Last night I wallowed my way through M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" and I am NOT in a forgiving mood.

I love The Sixth Sense. I enjoy Signs. I adore The Village. I like and own Unbreakable and Lady in the Water. I guess you could say I'm a Shyamalanian. But The Happening left me so stone-cold I can't even think where to begin on where it went wrong.

Wait, yes I can.

The first scene is simple and intimate, two friend sitting on a bench discussing the book one is reading. Suddenly, a scream rips through the air. A child falling on the playground? That would've been my first assumption, but the one girl immediately thinks Something. Is. Very. Wrong. "What's going on? What was that? What are those people doing...it looks like they're clawing at themselves!!" A paraphrase of the lines that follow -- but read in such a stilted, pat manner I can't help but wonder who the heck coached this scene: "Look like you're not scared while trying to seem ominous" seems a strange bit of direction.

Okay, so people are killing themselves. How very creepy. Well -- It is! There's nothing calming about mass suicides. So why does the creep factor, the horror of this plot point, seem to rest on well-timed shock music and a foreboding soundtrack? I found myself worrying not so much about people dying as I was about when the next startling jump-cut and accompanying discordant chord would commence. I'm not a fan of horror movies, I've seen probably about a dozen in my entire life and I count Shyamalan's in the mix, and yet somehow I always knew exactly when something SURPRISING was going to happen. Because the music would go "twinkle dinkle dee." then it would stop. then it would twinkle dinkle dee again for a second...then BAM!!!!! I'm Pavlov's dog, I guess. I respond to repetitive stimuli.

So, okay. As a horror movie, not so shocking. So, what should we look to next? Character development? If you can find it, and make sense of it, I'll give you a gold star. There's some mumblings about Zooey Deschanel having cried on her wedding day, and Mark Wahlberg being too science-minded for his own good. And that's about it. Are we supposed to piece together the puzzle for ourselves? "Well, at one point John Leguizamo gives her a look, so they're probably having an affair! OOH!!"

Except they're not.

"Well, the mood ring is supposed to tell us about their true feelings!"

Except it doesn't.

(what the heck does orange stand for, anyway? I'm in the mood to NOT ACT!?)

"Well, they grow during the film. They change from the callow people they were to the caring, child-loving heroes we see at the end!"

Except, you know, they weren't that bad to begin with. Zooey "Alma" agonizes, eyes popping expressively, over whether to answer the phone. Ooh, what a corrupt adulterous fiend! And Mark "Elliot" makes his class recite the scientific process. How rigid and unbending!

But really. Are we supposed to dislike these characters? And consequently like them at the end? Cause I found the opposite process "Happening" for me. By the final dramatic: "No, my love! I refuse to let nature best us! I WILL be with you in our final moments -- I want to hold you as we...die by our own hands?" I was feeling less than sympathetic. WAY less.

And what an anti-climax. Because, by the end, I was actually looking forward to what clever way they'd find to off themselves. Would they choke themselves with a piece of wheat, plucked from the ground? Would they make expressively angsty, wide-eyed faces at each other until they died from nausea? Would they make the EIGHT YEAR OLD CHILD they decided to include on their suicide mission pinch their noses until they suffocated?! WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THIS MOVIE!?!?

'Cause bottom line, I felt like this was M. Night's stab at a more traditional gore-fest: "ooh, wouldn't it be fun to do a slasher flick!! Except with a minor attempt at a plot, and with the villain being...wait for it...FOLIAGE!!!"

You know, maybe I'm wrong. About the whole film. Cause, man, nothing is scarier than plant-life. All that waving and bending in the breeze. All that greenness and loveliness, the shade, and all that giving off of that life-sustaining oxygen. Trees are really terrifying. Shyamalan must have tapped into my childhood nightmares with this one. Shrubbery is one of those things that everyone is really secretly terrified of, but no one wants to talk about it. I know I often walk around my backyard, tip-toeing past the bushes, for fear that I'm offending the god of all that's green and good just by BEING there. *shivers* All those leaves...and the Satanic spores and all that pollen -- allergies, man. It's all the plants!

I'm sorry...The Sarcasm Train just took off, you'll have to catch it at the next station.

But fer real -- all those shots of the breeze whipping through the chafe? Of trees swaying in bright, lovely sunlight? Was I supposed to be terrified? Cause I'm one of those people that sits through scary movies with my hands over my eyes and this time...not so much. No. Not this time, Shyamalamadingdong.

This is not to say that there weren't any redeeming factors, though of course I'm loathe to use the word redeeming because despite sparks of goodness NOTHING can POSSIBLY actually redeem this movie...

There were actually traces of humor, most notably in the scene where Wahlberg talks to the plastic tree, and the one where he tells Deschanel the story about the pharmacy. His head shake at the end of that one is particularly inspired, so don't think I'm a total hater. I can appreciate good where good is to to be appreciated. Of course, it has to actually BE THERE FIRST for me to spot it.

And John Leguizamo, hideously underused, was actually fantastic as the mathematician friend of Wahlberg. His final scene, from the "math riddle" to the reveal of the hanging bodies, to him getting out of the car, was chilling. I almost wished the movie had been a short film, and those five minutes had been it!

I remember leaning over to my friend as Leguizamo sat down, and whispering "Oh, man, he can't die -- he's the only one who's acting!"

Which is actually an unfair observation in retrospect, seeing as how I've liked both Wahlberg and Deschanel in various other films. The real culprit? Shyamalan's clearly caught whatever it is that George Lucas has been battling these last fifteen years or so. I think the virus is called something like "SuckyWritingitis" and it really is debilitating, so it's nothing to sneer at. At least Lucas never cameoed in any of his movies, which is more than we can say for the Shyamameister. Kudos to him for relegating himself to the role of "voice of Joey" and "random passenger on train next to Alma" in this film. Actually, major Kudos. Except that the Joey plot debacle was his fault to begin with. I guess he *should* have taken responsibility for the Character That Meant Nothing and Did Even Less.

So, what's the bottom line? It's viciously violent, at times (most times) unecessarily so. (think of how much more powerful some of the deaths would have been with a closeup on the people WATCHING the violence, and not a closeup of Blood Spurting Out of Dead Cop's Bullet Hole.) Further, it's poorly written, the dialogue spitting out in fits and starts and failing to illuminate character or plot satisfactorily. The actors are miscast (Markie Mark as a wide-eyed, earnest, eager science teacher? Fur realz?) and hardly doing much with the little they ARE given, aside from a few moments. Those characters that do make an impression die WAY early. The scariest thing about the movie was Betty Buckley. I'd like to see a movie with her as the focal point. CREEPER!! There's no motivational explanation, there are no stakes, there are no real heroes doing heroic things and there isn't even a fulfilling denoument. In fact, the kicker at the end is that the toxin has crossed the Atlantic and been picked up by the Trees of France (they always were the craftiest) in a scene oddly, humorously reminiscent of the final shot in Jumanji, where we see that the game, not to be so easily dismissed, has swam across the ocean to Europe. Maybe the toxin hitched a ride?

And the moral? NATURE WILL GET US IN THE END!! GO GREEN!!! Whuh?? The conceit involved in relegating your entire plot arc to "it's an act of nature, and we'll never fully understand it" is insulting and lazy...clearly this toxin CAN be explained, since it came from the plants and there are traces of it left, as the interviewee admits in the end. Um, then let's study it? Let's experiment with it? Where's Wahlberg's scientific process now?

Maybe the trees were just bored, and looking for something to do with those pesky creatures who nail swings into them and cut them down for stationary.

It would make more sense than what this movie offered.

[ June 14, 2008, 06:43 PM: Message edited by: Leonide ]

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You lost me at adoring The Village....
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Wooo. I think I'll pass on this one. [Wink]
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I actually read your entire post. I really did. I'm sorry you were so disappointed.

I love Deschanel, Wahlberg and Leguizamo. I'd hoped more for this movie. I could stare at the first two for days and love watching the third act.

The only reason I read your spoilers is for the simple reason that I can only watch scary/strange movies if I know what's at the root of the movie. I can totally watch aliens and virus movies. I can't watch demonic movies. Thanks for the review.

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I love The Village and think that, aside from Sixth Sense, it was the best of his movies. Also, I knew the minute one of his selling points was that this was an R-rated movie that it was probably lousy. Maybe I would like it. I don't know as I haven't seen it, but I'm not holding my breath. He lost me at the trailers for Lady in the Water.
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Were the trailers (for other movies, not this one [because those were a bit lame...]) any good?
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I thought the first trailer for Lady in the Water was pretty intriguing. It's what convinced me to go see it (and really, who doesn't like Paul Giamatti?). I don't really remember any of the trailers for the movies before that, though.

As for this one, I'm with Occasional. The whole R-rated thing was a turn-off for me from the beginning.

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I haven't seen the movie. I have my doubts that I will. I think for me, the biggest turnoff was this: I went over to imdb and read a nine page thread (in its entirety) which had spoiler warnings everywhere, and was filled with spoilers, but when I finished reading the thread, I realized that...

1. I didn't even know any of the character names
2. The only "plot" I got was a complete listing of every bloody and/or disturbing scene in the movie.

It seems to me that if I can read a nine page thread filled with spoilers and get the sense that the movie really has no plot except those disturbing moments, that's really not my sort of movie.

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I and my friends walked out after the first twenty minutes. That movie was completely worthless.
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I considered looking into this movie, just to see how they explained why people were killing themselves, thank you for telling me so I don't have to suffer through it.

I liked "The Sixth Sense", even if it was rather predictable.

I didn't enjoy "Signs" very much, I never even saw "The Village" and I was still able to predict the ending.

I have yet to see "Unbreakable", I really should check it out.

In "Lady in the Water" I found myself rooting for the grass wolf, telling it to "sic 'em", "get 'em", and "eat 'em" whenever he showed up.

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"The Happening" was by far the worst Shayamalan movie ever. If he wasn't just phoning it in for this one, he's truly lost touch with whatever it was that sparked him to make his first movie.

It was the worst piece of drek I've paid to see in a theater in years.

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When I was watching the trailer of this before Iron Man, I thought 'hey this might be interesting'

then MNS's name came on the screen and the theater burst out laughing and I knew immediately that the movie was going to be a pile of crap.

Because it's Shayamalan.

And Shayamalan has not been able to write for years. People keep forgetting this or giving him the benefit of the doubt, but they pay for it.

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I think the problem that Lucas and M Night share isn't so much Suckywritingitis--lots of hollywood writers have that.

What they share is Nobodytellsthemitssuckingitis, where they don't have the layer on layer of feedback and input and revision that comes from scores of people that happens on most movies that keeps a lot of crap out and adds good ideas in. Pixar has perfected this art, and they've yet to make a bad movie.

M Night and Lucas don't have that. For M Night, I think it's ego. For Lucas, I think it's because he's spending his own money, so nobody really feels it's their place to tell him anything.

That's the real problems with the Star Wars movies--it's not that Lucas has no talent for storytelling or world building. He still does. He just doesn't get the additonal layers of depth that other people could bring to the party. I read the Annotated Star Wars screenplays once, and nearly every good line was thought of by somebody else--he needed more of that on the prequels.

I've got no proof of this, but it's my suspicion that it wasn't nearly so much any ego on Lucas's part that spoiled those as it was people's reluctance to mention when he might need some help.

Night, on the other hand, needs to get over himself. It's his ego that makes him think he's got this "movie" thing figured out. His last movie he cast himself as a messianic savior of a writer. This film was his first attempt to start delivering a message, and he tripped all over himself thinking the "depth" of his message would make his movie important all on its own. In reality, the message was about as deep as a Captain Planet cartoon.

This film is not universally bad. There are some genuinely tense moments in this film. He realy does make rustling branches scary at a couple of points, which I got to give him credit for.

But then he does that scene with the lions and you just shake your head that this could even be the same guy who did unbreakable.

Or somebody opens their mouth. Any time anybody opens their mouth in this movie, you wince.

But I stayed to the end.

Because Zooey Deschanel still has her eyes.

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At least Lucas never cameoed in any of his movies
Actually, he did - thankfully it was a brief, non-speaking role.

Check out the blue guy in the bottom left corner

You cheeky monkey!

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We walked out of the movie theatre asking, "So...what happened?" Because really...nothing happens in this movie. It's sad because I was really looking forward to it. I'd been avoiding new trailers to keep from picking up on any new information, and I was hoping that they were building to something very cool. I mean, Signs ticked me off at the end, but at the beginning, when you didn't see the aliens except for, say, a blurry figure in the backdrop of someone's home video...that was SCARY.

This was not scary. Also, I'm all for being nice to the planet, but I don't want it shoved in my face like a poorly-executed Aesop's fable.

The best part of the entire movie for me happened when the little girl was on the swing that was hung from a tree branch. And it didn't even come from the movie. It came from the guy sitting behind me.

Whoever was talking in the Happening: What kind of tree is that?
Guy sitting behind me: An angry tree.

In conclusion, the entirety of the film can be captured very easily by my mad paint skillz:



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Best line spoken by an audience member at my showing:

That is some killer weed.

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There were tense moments, no doubt. And you know, when you get right down to it, the premise of "something happens to people that makes them immediately kill themselves" is actually quite disturbing -- the whole part with Betty Buckley trying to off herself by banging her head against the wall was truly awful. The EXECUTION (ha, no pun intended) was where everything fell apart. It's not a half-bad idea -- the pseudo-science crap-o brain chemistry biz, the silly close-ups, and the crappy dialogue made it full-bad. I'd like to see a film with this premise (well, maybe not -- a film done well with this plot would mess me up) where the writers actually took time to make the toxin sound plausible.

I mean, blocking your self-preservation receptors? So you maybe hold your hand on the oven longer than usual, or you don't put your hand up to block a punch to the face. But immediately get all zombified and shove your face through a window? Nuh-uh.

(Best line spoken by an audience member at my screening: "Maybe the toxin also potentially causes bad acting")

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Yeah, the explanation drove me insane.

I was like, wait...so it blocks some neurotransmitters, and you suddenly hate life and kill yourself? Sometimes people get too depressed to kill themselves because they think they deserve to suffer. And wouldn't that mean that if you were on antidepressants, you'd be immune?

This is how we protect ourselves from the angry trees, people. With Prozac! *adds to list of things to stash somewhere in the house in case of zombie apocalypse, vampire attack, mutant melee, and now homicidal plant horror*


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I am now very glad I had already decided not to see this one. Thanks for the review.
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Look at this way. New fodder for MST3K. (maybe 4K?)
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Puffy Treat
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You know, here's something else I've been wondering...

If the trees are going to kill us all, why do we want to save them?


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They only want to kill us because we are a threat. So if we stopped being a threat, they would theoretically stop producing the toxin.

Of course, that's silly.

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Yeah, but who knows how the plants define "threat?" I mean, geez, they didn't even give us a chance to agree with the crazy news scientist before they attacked France.

I say we need to make a preemptive strike!


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Thanks for the review. With your help I have convinced my brother he doesn't need to see it. [Smile]
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Even after reading all this, I still want to and plan to see it. I've liked nearly every one of his movies. Lady In the Water I felt was a great story that was filmed badly. But it was well acted I felt, by Paul Giamatti and Bryce Dallas Howard.

And the premise for this looks freaky good. I've heard from almost everyone I know that it's bad, but I'm still going to see it, out of A. Loyalty to a filmmaker that I've until now liked every movie he's made. And B. Zooey Deschanel is my future wife, and she'd be mad if I skipped her movie.

Plus generally I think people are way too harsh with people like Lucas and Shyamalan. I take all reviews for those two with a massive dose of salt. M Night himself said it's a B movie.

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There's nothing B-movie about it. The production values are too high, the cast caliber and the SERIOUSNESS with which everyone is clearly taking this makes it not a B-movie.

You're one of those people, Lyrhawn, that I find myself agreeing with on most things on this site -- movies, books, etc.

I really enjoyed Lady in the Water, thought it was well-acted as well. I feel most people are too harsh with Shyamalan.

You're not going to like this movie!!

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Spoiler in Kate Bush clip (first 3 seconds).
What a foresight!

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Goody Scrivener
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There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees...
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