Dear Jimmy Reviews...
Well, first off, a little personal history: I was a huge fan of M. Knight Shazam. Many people say he peaked right away with ‘Sixth Sense’ and it was all downhill from there, but personally I disagree. I actually enjoyed ‘The Village’, despite it’s length. And despite the convoluted resolution, of Signs there was a certain something that I enjoy, and that made it one of my favourite movies, and Shazam one of my favourite talents…
UNTIL ‘Lady In The Water’, that is! But I’m a fair enough bloke, I thought there was a chance that film was just a bump in the road on Shazam’s rise to stardom. It didn’t necessarily mean he was being crushed under the weight of his own ego and believed he could churn out any old crap and we’d still go watch it. So, I decided to give him one more chance with ‘The Happening’. And to be fair, the poster was pretty atmospheric, and for a few months I was looking forward to hearing about Shazam's heartbreaking struggle and the long months in rehab that meant he was finally able to kick whatever the hell it was he became hooked on, that had convinced him ‘Lady In The Water’ was worth releasing. Or doing anything with that wasn't burning it and sealing the ashes in a lead lined box in a solid concrete bunker fifty miles beneath the Earth’s surface.
Sure, there were red flags there if I'd looked a little deeper. The fact that it's released on a Friday 13th was fitting enough, and the tagline is so self indulgent, referring back to his movies that didn't suck. But all I noticed was that it was a pretty creepy image. All those deserted cars hinted that something terrible had happened, without revealing what. It was haunting, forbodding and Kinda reminiscent of a similar scene from the comic book series 'Y: The Last Man', which was a lone survivor tale that makes a great read. So I had hope that maybe this film would be in a similar vein.
It was doubly important to me that this film not suck, since it was released about the same time that Shazam had been confirmed as Director of the upcoming ‘Avatar’ films. Well, one of the twenty seven upcoming films called ‘Avatar’ anyway. I’m referring to the one that’s based on the Nick Toons ‘pretend anime’ series, which, incidentally is great and well worth watching. Totally unlike ‘The Happening’, which, instead, had me sharpening my knife collection and polishing my lynching rope, in anticipation of ‘Avatar’’s release. Subjective bit over. Let’s look at why this film sucks, all objective and professional like. Y’know like all my other reviews…
I wonder what I let myself in for, straight off the bat, since I could only get a hold of the ‘Extended Cut: Too shocking for cinemas!’ The original felt more than long enough so my first instinct is to check the run time, and lo and behold it’s a mere 86 minutes. 86 Minutes?! Extended?! It felt like I was in the cinema for fucking weeks when I saw this! I would complain about it being a total rip off for being so short, but I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
In it’s defence, the first thirty or so minutes could have been creepy, if still a little flawed, in the days before the internet: When people start mysteriously and spontaneously killing themselves the obvious conclusion is that it’s some kind of terrorist attack. This plays off of the current mentality and fears pretty well, until the real cause is revealed, and may’ve been slightly more effective if absolutely everybody didn’t know the actual story going in. For those of you who missed it, or could afford the therapy to get over the memory (and I envy you! I spend many a night waking in a cold sweat after dreaming that I walk up to a ticket kiosk and ask for “One to ‘The Happening’ please.”) the actual cause is plants.
Fucking plants?! And these aren’t the wisecracking man eating plants from ‘Little shop Of Horrors’, or the Sexually deprived rapist vines from ‘Evil Dead’. Hell these are even worse than the primeval, can do whatever the fuck they want McGuffin plants from ‘The Ruins’, and that film was no picnic, either! No these are plants. Just plants. The most threatening thing they do in this film is occasionally rustle in the wind. That’s your tension right there!
Actually, I lied. The tension is long gone even before we find out about the plants. Sure in the first scene of the film, a woman sticking her hair pin through her own neck, is pretty unnerving. After that, the next scene shows a man, apparently, falling from the top of some scaffolding, and as the rest of the workers investigate, another drops behind them. This could’ve all been very unsettling if it didn’t get so hilariously out of hand as quickly as it does, when thirty seconds later a dozen of so of their co-workers take a synchronised dive off the same ledge. Maybe Shazam just really wanted to make a ‘Lemmings’ movie but couldn’t secure the license. As it happens this just leaves me with the ‘I Still Know What You Did Last Summer’ feeling, whereby I wonder if I’m meant to be laughing at this alegedly terrible death and destruction or if I’m just a terrible excuse for a human being, and things just get worse from there.
I think in a bid to avoid monotony, no two scenes involve the same method of suicide. The first few are fairly standard, and actually do achieve some level of tension, but that’s right out of the window shortly after it starts raining men (Hallelujah!). Throughout the course of the film we also get we get a man walking into a tiger enclosure and waving his arm in front of them, a crowd playing hot potato with a cops gun, whereby one person shoots themselves, only to have another walk over, pick up the gun from where it lands and repeat the cycle, and, my particular favourite, death by riding mower!
And yes, in case you’re wondering, these are just as ridiculous as they sound, which takes away any real impact the unknown terror concept might originally have had. If they’re intentional attempts at dark comedy, they feel out of place, since there’s nothing else funny in the entire film. Apart from this:
H’eh, child abuse. But the times when it actually tries to be funny, the movie falls flat on it’s arse. Like Mark Wahlberg trying to reason with a plant, in one of the homes they visit, only for it to 'hilariously' turn out to be plastic. Or the weird hippie guy who seems obsessed with hot dogs. Maybe it’s a reference to ‘The Adventures Of Sonic The Hedgehog’… I don’t know. It’s in the script, and doesn’t advance the plot, so I assume it’s a joke. Of course by that logic, this should be a non-stop rollercoaster of hilarity, since nothing actually advances the plot.
This event happens, then it stops happening. The end. There’s no explanation. Sure there’s vague hints and conjecture, but there’s no explanation as to what or why. I get that is partly the idea, from the title. This is just some mysterious ‘happening’, but still, you can’t force me to sit through eighty six fucking minutes of this crap and then only give ‘the plants did it’ as your explanation. Maybe there’s some deeper truth hidden beneath the surface but screw that noise! I don’t even care enough about this film to watch it, let alone wade through a mountain of subtext to maybe find out why something is happening in the first place.
The most obvious interpretation of this is somewhat ironic as it serves as a warning against the destructive nature of the human ego. Nature is uniformly fucking us over for daring to meddle with it and 'touch things that don't belong to [us]'. A theory that is hammered home by the slogan of the Clear View community billboard; 'You deserve this'. Well, Sahazm, there're about six million movie goers who are waiting to uniformly fuck you over with rusty implements and riding mowers, because, after this film, you deserve it too.
So forget ‘why’ for a minute and look at ‘how’. The film offers some pseudo science explanation that sounds like it was concocted by Stan Lee:
I'm British, so therefore I like 'Dr Who', on account of it being a legal requirment for citizenship. So I have a pretty high tolerance for made up pseudo science. It's in my genes. However only when it admits that it's pseudo science and doesn't try and make itself sound legitimate. I'd quite happily accept that by making his sonic screwdriver vibrate at the same frequency as a sound wave The Doctor could stop the Darlek's from triggering a nuclear explosion (I totally made that example up, but I bet it actually does happen in an episode somewhere).
But even if I grant you the benefit of the doubt and accept that it is perhaps possible, that maybe certain plants are releasing these specific chemicals then it would only be specific plants that have the ability to create the chemicals. That doesn't mean every plant ever can. I have taken many a frolic through meadows, only to not come out cutting myself like a 'My Chemical Romance' fan. And don’t try and tell me they evolved the ability to do so, because that would be the equivalent of me going to bed tonight and waking up with wings the next morning. Or, to put it in internet memes:
The film tries to dance around this. When creepy hotdog guy is asked which plants are doing this he tells how all plants can communicate with each other. But that’s not the same as sharing their abilities! Again, that’s like me phoning a tightrope walker, and then expecting to be able to walk the tightrope myself after getting off the phone. Fuck, since we’re talking chemistry and physical atomic elements, it’s like me phoning said tightrope walker and finding I had one of his fingers attached to my hand after I hung up. Screw you, M. Knight Shazam science!
Plus, surely the victim’s main focus would be committing suicide in the most efficient manner, not the most amusing? Or do plants have their own version of you tube where they watch the results and wet themselves with laughter? Is that the real plot, this is all some plant prank that got outta hand? Because I wouldn’t put that past Shazam at this point. I mean, it’s the only real explanation, since surely there’re more efficient ways to kill yourself than this:
I know it’s a little redundant of me to try and apply logic to a film who’s premise is ‘The plants did it’, but how come whoever uploaded that thing onto You Tube (the people one, not the plant one, I assume) had chance to do so, instead of killing themselves straight after. In fact, the rest of the crowd aren't gouging out their eyes with sporks or anything, so why exactly aren’t they affected? On the other hand, if that guy travelled all the way to work to kill himself, how come he didn’t kill himself straight after exposure like everybody else?
Well, if the main plot has nothing for us to care about, maybe there’s some character arcs that can hold our attention. Well, that is true. Apart from the part where you give a crap about them! Be it Julian, separating from the group on a quest to reunite with his wife, the strained marriage of Alma and Elliot Moore, or crazy hippy guy’s attempt to get people to eat hot dogs. All of which are thrown into the shit storm in an attempt to try and trick the viewer into believing this film is living up to it’s name and something is actually happening. However, it's a bit like 'Wayne's World', except for the part were it's meant to be entertaining, in that 'The Happening' just seems to be a loosely connected collection of random stand alone scenes tied together for an hour and a half.
For a film with such a high body count, The Happening is surprisingly, brain numbingly, eye gougingly, wrist cuttingly, lion baitingly, lie down in front of a riding mowerly, dull. I guess this is what they mean when they say lift imitates art, because this film managed to override my self preservation centre and I very quickly found myself trying to off myself in an amusing and creative way. Sadly the staple gun wasn’t load so the fan shorted out, giving the rabid chicken time to escape.
The film introduces a whole mess of characters for the sole purpose of either having them kill themselves or getting killed off by other paranoid survivors. But ‘Lost’ this ain’t! So outside of the Moore’s we get no character development and feel absolutely nothing for them as they’re written out. And what about the characters who are kept alive and developed? What great main protagonists we have in those two!
I have this mental block whereby I can’t process Mark Wahlberg in any role that doesn’t involve him brandishing at least seven machine guns, and if this is any indication there’s a reason for that. He is grossly mis-cast as whiny pussy Elliot Moore, who tries to play to the mentor type teacher who inspires his class with his loveable everyman ways. However, and this is more the script’s fault then Wahlberg’s (although the annoyingly soft spoken voice he adapts doesn’t do it any favours) it comes across more as sexually harassing his pupils more than anything else. Plus what kinda teacher encourages pupils to think that ‘Duuurrr, I dunno’ is a valid answer in life?! What is Wahlberg’s fault, though, is another unintentionally hilarious scene. His unconvincing mini-breakdown was, literally, laugh out loud funny when I saw this film at the cinema. Enjoy!
The only good thing about this couple is that they’re perfect for each other, since Alma, played by the ever gorgeous Zooey Deschanel, is just as unlikeable, with her whiny passive-aggressive pettiness. I mean the world as they know it is basically falling apart, and all they can focus on is their marriage problems? Even worse they have a kid they’re meant to be protecting. Priorities people! It’s hard to comment on their respective performances in these roles, since the characters themselves are so bland and undeveloped that I don’t think even Chuck Norris could make them seem exciting, even if he set himself on fire before the cameras started rolling. I guess it is a backhanded compliment to Shazam that he can write a character so bland that I actually find myself not caring about Zooey Deschanel being on the screen.
So, after they discover the plants are behind it, the obvious course of action is for our group of survivors is to head out across the biggest, most open, plant filled fields that they can find. Because heading into some kinda concrete bunker away from anything even remotely green is the last thing you’d wanna do. Although maybe they just want to avoid being exposed the the ashes of the original print of ‘Lady In The Water’. I guess I’d risk painful and humiliating suicide over that, too.
After ditching the cannon fodder within a matter of minutes of their introduction, we are once again down to Alma and Elliot Moore, and Julian’s daughter Jess. Although, once again, Jess is so underdeveloped she’s a non-entity. You could just as easily replace her with a puppy or a potted plant and have the same emotional impact. Although I guess a potted plant would mean Alma and Elliot would end up killing themselves, so maybe just a puppy, then.
While out in the middle of nowhere the two and a bit characters we have left eventually meet eccentric recluse Mrs Jones. Now I’ve already said I’m as big a fan of unhinged wierdos as the next person. Hell, probably more so, since I have a website where I answer their mail. But I can’t even enjoy Betty Buckley’s turn as Mrs Jones in this movie, since she’s not as subtle as Anne Heche’s Missy in ‘I Know What You did last Summer’, but at the same time isn’t anywhere near as over the top and entertaining as Lorna Raver’s Mrs Ganush in ‘Drag Me To Hell’, instead Mrs Jones simply 'is'.
Instead it just comes off as an indecisive performance, like absolutely nobody on the set had any clue as to how she should be played. Fitting enough, I guess, saying as she swings from gentle and caring to bitter and antisocial at the drop of a hat. Maybe she’s actually the first character with a bit of depth, or perhaps it’s just her time of the month, we’ll never know, since, like everybody else, she’s killed off within literally ten minutes of us meeting her.
During the original version of the Moore's stay with Mrs Jones, and I did have to check it wasn't just me seeing things in the cinema, the boom mic is clearly in shot at least three times. Anybody who actually managed to keep their eyes open during that last fifteen minutes of the film may've even spotted more, but by this point I was hovering two on the Galsgow Coma Scale. I know it's a relatively small gripe to have about such an altogether poor movie, but it's a really annoying mistake from a guy with as much experience as Shazam (I'm hesitant to use the word 'skill' about him anymore). I mean surely if I could spot it, a professional would've? It just backs up the theory that Shazam is devolving as an artist, rather than growing.
I did plan to document this with screen caps, but, lo and behold, it appears to have been fixed on the DVD version. Although I can't help but think of the old analogy of 'You can't polish a turd'. It's also in the dinner scene that Elliot and Alma are about as close to likeable as they come in the course of the film, but it's a case of too little too late at this point. It's definitely too late for Mrs Jones, who incidentally turns out to be fuckin' nutso! But again this plot point takes the whole of three seconds to be explored before being tossed aside, as the toxin just so happens to affect her after she has been introduced. But this time it turns her into zombie Mrs Jones, smashing the windows of her house with her head, so that the toxin can potentially infect Elliot, too. Yep, evidently this movie has zombies now. Ahhh, screw it, at least she's not a zombie ghost!
I am left wondering what exactly does this toxin do? As, at first the suffers simply killed themselves using the nearest and easiest means necessary, then halfway through we see a group of infected people actively take the time to trek to the Clear View community before killing themselves. I remind you again, one of them using a riding mower! Now we have Mrs Jones actively trying to spread the disease.
After seeking shelter from Zombie Mrs Jones, Elliot is trapped in the house, and separated from Alma and the puppy girl. I guess this is where it all comes to a head in the epic conclusion of the story. Anybody who’s seen one of M.Knight Shazam’s films knows that the last ten minutes are usually when he delivers the twist, and as that's where his strength lies. So maybe there’s a shocking revelation that can stop this from being a total waste of time…
I’m not sure what that was meant to be epic? Tense? Dramatic? Moving? Because all it succeeds at being is anti-climatic. And what the hell happened to Zombie Mrs Jones, exactly?! There’s an epilogue as well, but nothing really happens, which I know is relative with this movie. Elliot and lama adopt Julian’s daughter, since they couldn’t afford an actual puppy, and, after the scientist who predicted that this was a natural event and not a terrorist attack goes on national T.V. to basically say ‘Ner-ner! Tolda ya so, bitches’, the final scene shows the event beginning again in France. For the first time I’m scared, by something I’ve seen in this movie, in case this means Shazam is planning a sequel.
But based on the reception this one received I doubt it. It’s been universally panned, and branded one of the worse films ever, so I wouldn’t hold my breath, thank God. I should thank this film, because it proved to me once and for all what I always expected. Hope is for idiots.
But this is Halloween, and this film definitely wouldn’t scare you, so I’ll leave you with something truly terrifying starting Mark Wahlberg…!
If you can stand the nghtmares be sure to check back tomorrow for another Halloween horror movie review.
If you can stand the nghtmares be sure to check back tomorrow for another Halloween horror movie review.
"Dear Jimmy" and all commentary and specific writings, including this review, are written by, and property of, James Vickers.