July 07, 2008

Please Go Quietly Into the Night

The other day, in what can only be described as a misguided, alcohol-induced state of mind, I went and saw M. Night Shyamalan's latest attempt at something that could be loosely described as a movie, The Happening. It's best summed up, I think, by the following editorialised version of its poster:

Essentially, the plot is that the all the trees in the northeastern United States decide that they have had about enough of human beings, and so start releasing a chemical that turns off the "don't kill yourself neuron" in the brain (I am paraphrasing, but only just). This causes all the unfortunate souls who happen to walk by a tree during the movie to kill themselves in an ever-escalating series of dramatic and artfully photographed ways: a woman stabs herself in the neck with a barrette; a man steers his car into a sixty-mile-per-hour crash; a gardening crew set down their harmless chainsaws and hang themselves from trees using nooses made from hose.

Meanwhile, protagonist Mark Wahlberg takes a trip through increasingly smalltown and stereotyped Pennsylvania, spouting wooden dialogue to whoever will listen, eventually ending up with his estranged wife and his co-worker's daughter in the house of a gratuitous crazy lady who has no contact with the outside world and yet a dinner set instantly recognisable as Ikea houseware. And just when it seems like there's no way for them to escape tree-induced suicide, and you're gasping at what little tension Shyamalan has managed to build, he deflates the entire movie with his lamest surprise twist yet: there is no surprise twist. Instead, the trees just decide — for reasons that are never explained — to stop producing the deadly chemical, and life goes back to normal, except for the tacked on epilogue where the trees in Paris start doing roughly the same thing to a gaggle of typecast Frenchmen ("I have to remember to pick up my bicycle after work": "Mon Dieu!"). The movie then ends, mercifully, and we are left to ponder its message. Fear the trees? Treat the trees better? Fear Pennsylvanians?

It's bewildering, risible, awful, and worth seeing only for the hilarity of all the shots of trees rustling menacingly, and, of course, the tree-mendous potential for puns it provides (e.g. "Gosh, the plants are getting quite a-grass-ive!"; "Their bite is worse than their bark!"; "I hope things work out oak-ay!"; etc.). My rating: one half pundigrion.


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Claire said...

Worst. Movie Title. Ever.

Though the line "The trees have had enough" is quite nice

Anonymous said...

I must point out 2 things:
1) You wanted to see this movie sober, you just couldn't get me to see it without first wining and dining me.
2) The trees were definitely arboring some resentment.

That is all.

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