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DVD Review

DVD cover

The Happening


Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel and John Leguizamo
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 03 November 2008

On an apparently normal day in Central Park people start to loose their train of thought, then they appear to be suffering from a waking catatonia, finally they kill themselves. With no explanation to this phenomena the media speculate about a terrorist attack until the effects spread to further cities. Afraid for the safety of his family, Elliot Moore flees with them and a friend by train only to discover that whatever is happening may have already overtaken their escape route...


The Happening (2008) was written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who achieved a great deal of critical success with The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002). His later films, The Village (2004) and Lady in the Water (2006), saw a gradual decline in both box office takings and positive critical response.

On its release The Happening got a real kicking with many people calling it one of the worse films he had made. Whilst it is by no means the best film so far, it does have some good elements. The movie is not really like his earlier outings, where there is a great reveal at the end, so I don’t think I'm giving too much away saying that the film deals with a supposed attack by the planet's foliage on the population of North America. As we follow Elliot into the countryside he tries to make sense of what is happening. There appears to be no antagonist or a real plan and it only slowly dawns on him that this is not an attack by other human beings.

It’s a great premise, which suffers from a number of problems - probably caused by Night having so much control over the film. Whilst the auteur style of movie making can produce classics, such a Citizen Kane, the vision being undiluted and uncompromised it can also produce poor films. Knowing that I was going to review this film I took time to try and understand why I had failed to enjoy it at the cinema.

The first problem the film has is its realism, I don’t mean it lacks realism, but that it displays too much. If we see a horror film we want to be entertained, so for the most part the real horror of a situation is toned down and for a character piece we want to see the characters doing interesting things in a way that does not happen in real life. Night shows us people reacting relatively calmly to the situation, which is exactly what real people do. But do we want to see this or would we rather have hyper realism in films. There is a lack of screaming crowds, hysterical individuals and things happening, the antithesis of a film like Cloverfield. Night may have reflected a more realistic reaction, but is that what we want to see?

He also does little to push home how horrific it would be if the foliage really could attack humans as a threat. Just look around you and you’ll see that, apart from deserts, there is almost nowhere where humans live that does not have trees and gardens - where would we really go? We can’t even destroy them as we need them for the air that we breath.

The performances are problematic; Night seems to want to have a slow pace, where his characters can contemplate their situation. I guess they would also be in shock but what actually comes across is a lack of fear or real engagement in their predicament. Zooey Deschanel spends most of her time portraying Elliot’s wife, Alma, as if she is on strong sedatives, with very blunted reactions.

There are some good things about the film apart from the premise. The cinematography does a much better job at portraying the threat from the environment than the script, that and the score are able to conjure up a real sense of dread from what is essentially waving grass and leafs in Pennsylvania. I can see that Night wanted to make a film which was more contemplative in its presentation, I’m just not sure that this makes for good entertainment.

The review disc was of the vanilla variety, so I cannot comment on any of the extras as they were not included, which is a real pity as apparently the full disc comes with a copy of the film which can be transferred to portable devices - a great idea and one I was hoping to try out in my itouch. Extras include The Hard Cut (9 min); I Hear you Whispering (9 min); A Day for Night (7 min); Elements of a Scene (10 Min); a twelve minute Making of featurette; some deleted scenes; and a gag reel, non of which sound particularly substantial.


Charles Packer

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