Note 2008-06-17: This was written based on the The Happening trailer. I had not seen any spoilers when I wrote this, but it turns out my "fart gas" conjecture was half-accurate, as was my "The Happening sucks" conjecture.
So The Happening looks like a pretty stupid movie.
I realise it's premature to judge movies based on their trailers, but that's typically because a trailer, by virtue of containing all the expensive awesome shots and one-liners from the final product, generally makes a movie look substantially better than it actually is. But the trailer for The Happening is, as I will now outline, stupid. So how could the movie possibly be better?
Every frame, beat and musical cue in the trailer is calculated to build suspense. However, it fails to provide any clear notion of what, exactly, is happening which is suspenseful. You see one guy fall down. And that's it. What? It seems like M. Night Shyamalan watched some old horror movies like Alien and Jaws and came to the conclusion that a more ill-defined threat can be more scary. This is true. You don't show the shark. You don't show what the alien looks like. Keep the monster where it can't be seen and just show the hideous consequences and let the viewer fill in the terrifying details themselves. That's a valid horror technique.
But then he grabbed hold of the wrong end of the stick and took off for the treeline. He didn't just conceal the threat. He has started playing hide and seek with the effects too.
Nobody knows what's happening!
Fine, but that's about as scary as nothing happening at all!
One guy falls down. Oh, and some other people are said to have died. No method given. That's not scary. That could just be a heart attack. It's okay to make the cause of the unpleasant events unclear. That doesn't matter. But we do have to know what is being caused.
Actually, you can even conceal that-- maybe drag the character behind a medical screen before her organs explode horribly so we don't actually see it-- but one thing does have to be made completely explicit, and that is the fact that the threat is horrible. Is it supposed to be scary not to know things?
For all the information given, the threat could be an expanding cloud of deadly, choking fart gas! This could even conceivably be the case. It could be one of those trailers which people make where they select the clips and the music to completely alter the genre of the movie being trailered, like "Brokeback To The Future" or the one which turns Mary Poppins into a horror movie. Except here they made a comedy sequel to Thunderpants, perhaps, and re-cut the trailer to look like an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
Oh, and it leverages the whole "disappearing bees" business too. You know, any minute now, the scientists are going to figure out why bees are actually disappearing, and a lot of sci-fi writers are going to look very stupid indeed with their freakish, premature alternate explanations.
And finally let's take a look at some of the terrifying lines which are actually devoid of significance or meaning and thus fall completely flat.
"We've lost contact."
"Lost contact? WITH WHO??!"
Gasp! I thought maybe we had only lost contact with... SOME people!
"We believe... an event is happening."
What? An EVENT of some kind?! MY GOD! Get me the President! We can't let an occurrence transpire, not after all that this country's been through!
I also like the bit where the guy asks a class of high school students to attempt to solve a problem that trained, educated professionals have failed to solve, and acts all surprised when none of them know the answer, the bit where a shot of an American city from above is presented as threatening, the bit where a guy riding the train is presented as threatening, and the bit where the guy stares into space for five seconds.