I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not one to leap on the Shyamalan critical wagon, screaming about twists and ignoring the rest of the story in his films. So as with each of his films I have ignored the critics screaming about twist endings when it doesn't matter and headed into the cinema to take this film on its on merits.
So what did I think? Well first I have to say thanks to the excellent Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema for once again helped me in reviewing this film, they really are a cracking cinema and have great sound set-ups. So it really made this film come alive for me.
The Happening is a film about a strange event that occurs in New York, an event that is first thought of as a terrorist gas attack, but is soon discounted as such. The events begin to spread outwards from the first, and soon a large section of the United States looks like it is under attack from someone or something.
In the beginning there's no clear answer as to what is happening, all is known is that when there is an attack people stop, begin talking nonsense, and then kill themselves in whatever manner they can.
Elliot Moore, played by Mark Wahlberg, is caught up in the events, deep in the heart of the affected area, and together with his wife, played by Zooey Deschanel, his friend, John Leguizamo, and his friend's daughter, they make a break for safety, soon finding out that the attacks are a lot more natural than they thought, and that perhaps there is no escape.
The first thing I really have to speak about are the performances, and particularly that of the star Mark Wahlberg. From the first showings of the trailer I found him difficult to watch, and what surprised me is that no one else said anything about it. His inflexions when asking questions, particularly seen in the classroom scene, but there are a number of points in the film that I find it difficult to listen to and watch him for this reason.
It just felt as though he was trying too hard, and that was reflected in his confused facial expression that pops up from time to time, couple that with the raising the voice into a high pitch at the end of the question and I was struggling.
I really do feel that casting wise he was a poor choice for this film, he's just not a natural enough and versatile actor and I believe that swapping Wahlberg and Leguizamo. Wahlberg could have played the distressed character just as well as Leguizamo who could have himself played the lead much better.
So straight off I was struggling with the film, whenever Wahlberg was doing this strange forced confusion I was knocked back from the film. Leguizamo however was very strong and Deschanel was better, but seemed far too off beat to begin with, as the film progressed and her character was revealed her performance relaxed much more.
While I'm writing about some bad points, let me get something addressed right now, an annoying boom shot during the fake dining table scene, that really caught my eye and surprised me, again knocking me back from the film.
The scenes of people killing themselves weren't as shocking as we had been led to believe, in fact I didn't think this was really as hard rated as everyone thought, nor as the U.S. ratings had been hyped up to be. Indeed in many countries it's sitting between a PG and a 16. However it's worth noting that IMDB claim that the film has been cut for UK audiences, although a quick check on the BBFC site says that there were no cuts made to the version that was submitted.
So I'm not entirely sure if the UK is running with a cut down version of the film, if it is it's a cut that the studio made before submitting to the BBFC who hand out the UK ratings, and that's maybe why the deaths don't feel nearly as bad as the hype had suggested.
Saying that though, the scenes of the people leaping off the building in the construction site are perhaps the most disturbing. The way they casually leap from the top and the sound and sight of them falling at ground level is horrendous, and I say that without any comparisons that some have made to real life. Simply on it's own the scene is disturbing, and I liked that.
The story is really good one, and I liked the way it played out. Again M. Night Shyamalan keeps the action focussed on a very personal level rather than pulling out to look at the larger, nationwide or global view, and when he does show the scale of the events he does so through their viewpoint with television, radio and individuals recounting. This is done perfectly and a superb method of building the paranoia and appealing to the audience. I loved that aspect of the film.
Another superb aspect of the story is that it doesn't always spell things out for you like most Hollywood films, there's not a desire to start pointing out and highlighting things to the audience after they've been given subtle clues, and refreshingly there's plenty of scope for the audience to make up their own minds about a lot of the events and draw their own conclusions.
On a few occasions though there was a feeling of events being over explained with the film makers saying "look, do you get it now?" as they showed us or let us hear something again, only this time closer and louder. Now it didn't happen very often and for the most part we were left to make up our own minds, but there was still a few moments, and because we were given this freedom, when the "hey look at this" moments came they were all the more noticeable.
The story, and this is where the conversation about the cutting might come into play, does feel somewhat disjointed and perhaps cut in places. I'd be interested to see the U.S. version as a comparison, but there are a few moments that just feel they leap too far and expect to take us with them, or that don't go all the way.
I'm tempted to read the script as a comparison, but obviously no one will allow me to do that and it's illegal.
Afterwards, and still even now, the story is playing in my mind. Partly because I have been wondering how differently I would have played it, and partly because the story does make you think about world events and wonder if there will be some day of reckoning, and if it hasn't already begun.
I did enjoy The Happening, but for me it is my least favourite M. Night Shyamalan film. Perhaps this might change with time if the UK version has been cut slightly, but really I can't see any way past the problems I had with Wahlberg's performance.
That said if you like Wahlberg and don't see a problem with his delivery of lines from the trailer, then perhaps you'll love this film much more. After all the script is superb and the delivery very strong and the ending packs an interesting punch, even if you do see it coming - remember just because Shyamalan wrote and directed the film does not mean there has to be a twist.
The Mist (Filmstalker review)
The Ruins (Filmstalker review)
Wanted - I have to admit this is looking really exciting, particularly on the big screen. Is this going to be the surprise hit of the summer?
X-Files - My first chance to see the trailer on the big screen, and it looked good, capturing the old feeling of the original series.