M. Night Shyamalan really, really wants to be the new Alfred Hitchcock. And, for a while, he almost had us believing that he could pull it off. From his (much despised) self-appearances in his own movies, to super-twisty twist endings, to his previous masterful touch of all things suspense related, Shyamalan had it all. Then the ending to Signs happened, and people started to pull back. The The Village, a massive audience divider which still has equal levels of lovers and haters. And then came The Lady In The Water, one of the most generally derided movies in recent years. And it looked like Hitchcock 2.0 was to be no more.
But then came the early trailers for his new movie, The Happening, all whispers of a plot involving god knows what that was making people do all kinds of crazy things and the director saying this was going to be his most violent movie to date. Not since Cloverfield has there been as much speculation about what was potentially the big-bad-thing making these big-bad-things happening. But, unlike this years surprising monster movie, Shyamalan took what was a potentially fantastic idea and beat it to death with a big stupifying stick.
Shyamalan has stated that The Happening is his The Birds, in that something innocuous and not quite scary is suddenly out to get us, and with no solid reasoning. And while Hitchcock managed to pull that off with style, Shyamalan really backs the wrong scary horse, and the audience will be switching between amused and bemused when they should be feeling tense or scared.
Shyamalan has always been about the leading men and using them to the best of their up-to-that-point untapped potential, which usually consists of taking a big action man and making them sensitive and scared (Bruce Willis twice, Mel Gibson) or taking the sensitive types and making them the hero (Joaquin Phoenix, Paul Giamatti). And while that might’ve worked up to a point in the past, it doesn’t work here. Taking an actor as physical and threatening as Mark Wahlberg and turning him into nothing more than an attractive nerd doesn’t work, and you almost feel embarrassed for the awful dialogue and character he has to grit his teeth around. Secondary characters don’t fair any better, from Zooey Deschanel, who must’ve misheard “estranged wife” as “strange wife”, and John Leguiziamo, another super physical actor forced into a pair of bifocals and spouting mathematical calculations during times of psychological duress.
To be fair, some of the earlier scenes of chaos and mass panic are played out well, but this is not scary like Shyamalan has performed before, and this is not violent like Shyamalan has promised this time round. Without giving anything away, during one long shot of the movies “villian”, the audience this reviewer went to see this with burst out laughing. And didn’t stop laughing for several minutes. When this is the reaction that this generations Alfred Hitchcock is getting to his new horror movie, then you really do need to ask what is happening.
Three Out Of Ten