The Happening

The Happening ★★★★½

All right, be scientific, douchebag.

Oh my fucking God? This rating is meant completely seriously, should state that first and foremost. I think the biggest mistake you can make in regards to talking about and engaging with The Happening is thinking that anything in this was unintentional in the hands of M. Night Shyamalan. When you think about "so bad, it's good" movies, the reason why they are often so entertaining is that their "bad" components come about because of incompetence mixed with being too big for your britches. That's not what I think The Happening is at all. Rather, and if I had to get it down to a singular statement it's this, I think The Happening is a beautiful tribute to the goofy, exaggerated paranoia 50's and 60's B-movie. If this was played any more serious, it would be bad. If this was played any less serious, it would be bad. This feels like M. Night going ham while, and again, serious when I say this, having some of the most specific control over tone I think he's ever had in one of his movies. I could go back and forth about whether the actors themselves were fully into what M. Night was going for here, but I have no doubt that the writer-director is in complete control here, and if you ask me, if Wahlberg and Deschanel were mostly going off of the words of M. Night here, them potentially being oblivious to the truest intentions of this movie I think absolutely add even more to its power. Like, holy shit, Wahlberg in this is fantastic. Fantastically awful, but yeah, again, I think that's part of the point. (Good place to say before I forget that there's also quality work here in the more completely genuine sense with acting. I though John Leguizamo was incredible, probably my top performance in this, and I think may very well be my favorite of his performances period. The car scene is one of the film's top emotional highlights, M. Night as the sentimentalist not being able to help showing himself for a brief moment, even if he has to go away for M. Night the harbinger of doom.) The work from James Newton Howard and Tak Fujimoto I think even further validates the authenticity of everything here being so deliberate with its bizarre acting and ludicrous behaviors. Both the visual aesthetic of the film, as well as its soundscape, helped bring to mind some of the great and most influential horror films of yesteryear for me. (I thought in particular of The Blob, The Thing from Outer Space, and surprisingly by this film's climax, Night of the Living Dead.) Howard's score, right from when it kicks in, feels like it very well could have come from decades ago. I would have to revisit his work with Shyamalan on Signs before I could give a fully conclusive answer, but for now, I'll be direct and say I think this is Fujimoto's finest accomplishment with him. The world and the characters of said world clash in a way that's so off-putting, it's compelling regardless of how you engage with it. Intense close-ups as actors react to horrific things or have to think about how close death is right next to them. Early in the film, there's a moment with a handgun being passed up a city road that's to me fucking horrifying in how it's portrayed, and more specifically, shot. If this was in a movie by George A. Romero, it would be taught in film classes about how to properly invoke terror into an audience. Since it's in the "awful" Shyamalan movie, I had heard no one talk about this scene prior to seeing it for myself. What seems to start off as M. Night's most, potentially only cynical film I think eventually reveals itself to be sympathetic not only to humanity but to nature too, so extra points there for making an empathy machine to Earth itself. The people in this may not act the most rationally in whatever situations they find each other in, yet in a fair amount of these same sequences, I see people trying to figure things out as collective units. Even in the face of impending death, there are those who are willing to work together to overcome adversity, talk to each other, lend some sort of helping hand if there's a chance to come out on the other side by the end. This builds to what I thought was a truthfully gorgeous finale. Going to try not to touch on the exact details, but there's a moment where Wahlberg's character walks out of a house to be reunited with Deschanel and a little girl that reminded me of the reaching out the hand scene from The Village. If I think there is any mantra that you can try to pull out from M. Night's movies, as reductive as it can be, it's that "love conquers all." Here we see an act of love that abandons rationale in the face of what seems inevitable, and for these people who love so dearly despite their issues, it pays off well for them. Serving as both a tribute to humanity as well as a warning to how awfully it treats the planet it inhabits, the greatest twist M. Night Shyamalan pulled off for me today was getting me to love The Happening. Listen to him, and take an interest in science.

9/10

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