Sunday, July 14, 2013

Films Watched 2013: #5

The Happening (2008)
People start killing themselves in large numbers in New York and Boston. With fears that it's spreading to other cities mild-mannered scientist Marl Wahlberg, his girlfriend Zooey Deschanal, and fellow scientist John Leguismo evacuate Philadelphia for the safety of smaller towns. But the contagion, whatever it is, follows them, mass suicides confronting them at every turn. Can they escape it? An intriguing, Twilight Zone idea, with an arresting first twenty minutes or so soon comes off the rails in spectacular fashion. Truly as bad as its reputation suggested. There's real competition here is who gives the worst performance. To say Wahlberg is out of his comfort zone is an understatement, arguably the dumbest scientist in cinema history (and that, let us not forget, includes Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist in The World Is Not Enough), Deschanel appears labotomised for most of it, like a startled faun, Leguismo oddly intense, distracted, and as for the old lady in the isolated farm house, well she's just hilarious. By the end the urge to giggle uncontrollably was almost overwhelming. The shame is this could have been a great low-budget sci-fi b-movie but Shamalyan can't decide whether he wants us to take this seriously or tongue-in-cheek. He throws in a semi-humorous interlude in a fake atom-bomb-site house, that might have worked in another film (it's the one moment Wahlberg seems at ease) but in the context of this film it just adds to the general air of giddy uncertainty. The director doesn't seem to know what tone he wants to set, doesn't seem capable of giving the actors direction. So many problems. They realise the trees are out to get them, so they head across fields full of them. And it ends with a whimper where for once some kind of bravura, dumb-ass twist might have saved it.

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