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The Happening – In the beginning, movie without end, amen

either: it's gonna rain - or the world's coming to an end

either: it's gonna rain - or the world's coming to an end


The Happening – M Night Shyamalan

Bad Night at the movies. M Night Shyamalan has produced a first: the only movie ever where the trailer is actually better than the movie. We are familiar with ‘comedies’ where the only funny bits are all the in the trail, but MNS has gone one better – not only are all the scary bits already in the trailer, but they are far scarier there than in the movie itself. This is easy enough to explain: when you’re watching the trailer you are wondering what awful accumulation of events can possibly have caused whole cities of people to start committing suicide? Well you won’t find out from this movie. There’s a technical critic’s point here: is revealing there is no ending to a film a spoiler? Discuss. In fact instead of wasting hard-earned money on this meta-tosh seek out the biggest dictionary you can find and see if you can find a better word for bad than execrable. If you find one let me know and I’ll use it in a re-post of this ‘review’.

The acting is also better in the trailer: presumably because in very short bursts a bemused, floundering Mark Wahlberg may have just about been able to convey brief moments of misplaced conviction in his cardboard character with his soggy cardboard dialogue. Poor old Night – he wrote, produced and directed this so there is no one to share the blame – or the box office losses once word gets round. If they’d sent the script for this one to Harrison Ford he’d have rung up George Lucas and said “George, my crack about your Star Wars dialogue – you only having to write such crap, we had to speak it? Well I take it back.”

If you find any publicity material for this one contains any of the words ‘terror’, ‘thriller’, ‘fear’, ‘suspense’ or especially the word ‘film’ – sue. Imagine Hitchcock’s The Birds where all the birds are normal – so nothing happens. So that end shot of the birds gathering? They just want some bread. Or Jaws – but no shark. The Texas Chain Store visit. Sorry I was putting off saying more about this film.

Eliot Moore (Wahlberg) is a science teacher in much the same way as George Bush is a Professor of Linguistics. He is asking his understandably comatose class to offer hypotheses to explain a hypothetical question – why have all the bees in the world suddenly disappeared – no bodies, no buzz, nothing. This pedagogical gem shakes his students from their comas into terminal lethargy. This stuff is an embarrassing paint-by-numbers signal to us that the farrago to follow is going to be about a natural event that is totally unpredictable, completely inexplicable and it seems should induce a sense of awe and wonder in us and any good scientist. Well any even third rate scientist will by this stage already have expired on the floor of the cinema in an apoplectic fit….of giggles. MNS’s concept of science adumbrated in this little gem of exposition makes Jedi Knight sound like a world religion.

Then The Happening starts happening: in Central Park everyone stands still, starts walking backwards then tops themselves by the first available means. As ever in catastrophe movies – all the bloody dogs survive – isn’t there even an apocalyptic event that will get rid of the bastards? Just kidding dog-lovers: but dogs are immortal in disaster movies – shame about the people.

Trees and grass waving in a gentle breeze are the ominous aurgury of genocidal levels of human self destruction. That Shayamalan uses as one example of this, building workers leaping to their deaths from their work in shots carefully fashioned to echo the real such actions of people in the twin towers on 911, adds execrable moral sentiment and taste to aesthetic crassness. This scene really sucks – because it works – until disgust overwhelms scariness.

The rest is just a breeze – so to speak. Moore’s expressionless wife (Zooey Descanel) is tormented by guilt over having shared a tiramisu with a guy in the office and confesses this adulterous sin as they race the death wind because she “didn’t want to die without you knowing.” Hell, don’t women pick the damnedest moments to confess – either during a penalty shoot-out, or when a death wind is nipping at your bum. Anyway if this is the detailed level of sin required for a deathbed confession I’d better start now – I might only have a decade left to live. Is a banana sundae a mortal or a venal sin? Or just suggestively rude?

There’s a kid they’ve been lumbered with who acts like an alien. She’s the daughter of a Maths professor which is much the same thing. And two likeable lads they pick up on the way who get their heads blown off by country folk who won’t give them refuge. Man if that gentle breeze don’t get you a good old boy 12-bore will. This scene is tasteless, grotesque, surreal and utterly pointless.

Much tosh about plants fighting back – well you can’t blame the trees in a land of immortal dogs for that – and dire warnings about our abuse of the planet etc. A few totally disconnected ‘scary’ bits chucked into the mix and then just as you’re waiting for the bloody thing to start – it stops. No, it doesn’t end – it stops.

To everyone who has ever done me down, in word or deed, who hates my guts, and thinks my writing’s a load of crap – I can’t recommend this too highly. To the few remaining – don’t go – if you must, take your dog, they’re only heroes in this junk. In fact if you are ever in a real apocalypse – hang on to the dog – you just might make it.


There is perhaps a serious issue here. With films like Signs (completed and released during and just after 9/11) and this Lulu, Shyamalan is plugging in, knowingly or not, to what seems to be a prevalent post-9/11 paranoia. Both films portray an enemy from nowhere, who has never been attacked, offended or hurt in any way. They are unknown and unknowable and so immensely powerful that absolutely any means, including nulear is justified in winning the fight to the death them. They have no beliefs, no reasons, no speech, no desire for contact except human genocide. In the face of the irresistable terror they induce, overwhelming force, without limit – shock and awe to coin a phrase – is the only way to win the final battle for survival of the human race.

I hardly need spell out the disturbing parallels here. 9/11 was in some ways one of a few definitive acts of evil – not because of its scale, for sadly in terms of quantitative criteria it is rather low down on the scale of man’s willful destruction of his fellow man. No, but qualititatively, in its diabolic cunning of planning and sustained, patient, hatred driving ‘masterful’ preparation and finally the chilling, absolute dedication of its execution. All that said – this act of war came from within an ancient culture, a profound and deeply held belief system, abeit profoundly and shockingly distorted. There is a long history of much exploitation and some justified shame at the ways in which the peoples and the culture from within which such hatred and these acts were born and grow. In a rather impressive West Wing post-9/11 special, Aaron Sorkin aked this question of young people present through Josh Lyman: ‘Islamic terrorism is to Islam as …..(what?) is to Christianity?’ His answer – the Ku Klux Klan. We fight and beat the Klan and others like them from a base of law, due process, legitimacy and the democratic conviction shared with other nations and decent people everywhere. Not paranoia and overwhelming force. If we lose our values and our reason – we lose the war against evil. T’was ever thus.

I’ve strayed a long way from Mr Shyamalan’s dreadful film. But if Art offers a view of life; and popular Art influences many people………………………………………………..

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