Two movies released in 2008 with plots heavily focused on revenge are the subject of this review. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and the Morel/Besson collaboration Taken. One was described as “racist” by the UK’s Daily Telegraph, and the other as a “woeful clunker” by The Wall Street Journal. Ouch on both counts. “How could a movie about a suicide-inducing airborne toxin be racist?” you might ask. Read on.
The short answer is that The Happening is racist against people. The long answer is that The Daily Telegraph was referring to Taken when their reviewer used those words. In any case, neither film was as bad as people make them sound. I actually liked both of them. Maybe that’s because I’m a dumb American or maybe it’s because, compared to me, people are taking movies too seriously these days. After all, when you’re sitting in a room filled with chairs that all face the same wall with a bunch of strangers, eating food with prices that The Hague should hold a tribunal about, how seriously should one take oneself? Read on.
You should probably take yourself seriously enough to know when something is intentionally campy or far-fetched. If you were expecting a documentary on the geopolitical impact of human trafficking on Karaoke machine sales, you might have been close to the mark with Taken, but not close enough so that you didn’t deserve to be disappointed. Likewise, if you wanted a study on the emotional impact of sharing dessert with a coworker after hours, The Happening would be a better fit than, say, Citizen Kane. But you still don’t know how to pick your movies.
But here’s the thing. If you went into a viewing of either of these movies without any ability to be entertained by anything that doesn’t win an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy, or a Pulitzer, you missed the point. You see, this stuff is just entertainment. And while you may prefer not to waste your money on bad entertainment, you should stop comparing the money you spend on a film like The Happening to the money you spend on a film like No Country for Old Men.
You wouldn’t compare $50 worth of ground chuck to $50 worth of steak, but is a hamburger worse than a steak? Hell no. Have you spent $50 on hamburgers? Probably. In fact, you probably spend far more money on hamburgers per year than you do on steak. Movies should be looked at the same way: For every $50 worth of great movies you watch, there’s hundreds of dollars worth of movies that are good, but they aren’t steak. Sometimes you need a burger. You just have to have one. Is that a bad thing? No. So why is everyone so upset at these “burger” movies?
But enough about the philosophy of why bad movies are good. The two films we’re talking about here have merits. First and foremost, in both of these films, lots of people die for no good reason. Liam Neeson’s character is right to be upset about the kidnapping of his daughter, and he makes it clear that he feels justified in acting on those emotions. But his valuation of human life is bizarre, even by my standards. He just overreacts a tad. If normal revenge was being pushed into the pool fully-clothed, Taken is the tsunami in Japan. In both cases you get wet, but in the tsunami, you and everyone you know drown in a wall of mud, feces, and fire (all of which happens to be radioactive), even if you just met them. I heard they’re doing a sequel too:
I think there should be a sequel to The Happening if they’re filming a sequel to Taken. I’ll even save them some money and offer up this poster to make it easier for them. Art department? Pfffft.
Did I mention that a lot of people die in this film for no good reason? It’s not necessarily a “quality” in a movie. In fact, it’s pretty awful in an amazingly awesome sort of way. But it isn’t every day you see a film with no real villain in it, no obvious disaster, no real resolution to the problem, and no hero. The Happening bucks all of those trends and still manages to be pretty darn creepy at times. I mean, not terrifying because it’s just not that type of film. But it has it’s moments. Anyone who is a fan of this director’s work, and I understand there aren’t many more of those, will certainly enjoy this.
Character development? Ha. Metaphor? What’s that? At times, The Happening is just downright unusual in many regards, with scenes popping up out of nowhere that just don’t seem to fit into the movie in any way shape or form. On the other hand, if The Happening is like someone mixed the pieces of several puzzles together in one box, Taken is more like a 50 piece puzzle of a balloon. It’s simple. It has a hero. It has a story. But not too much. Sometimes that’s a very good thing. This happens to be one of those times.
Don’t rush out and see these movies. By all means, put it off as long as you can. But don’t avoid them at all costs. If you find them in a thrift store, or either of them are playing on TNT…wait no. They’ll cut out all of the good stuff on TNT. Get them from your local library! That’s what I did. Yes, they still have libraries.