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Happening, The (2008)

The Happening reviewReviewed by Sirand

Starring Mark Wahlberg, John Leguizamo, Zooey Deschanel

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan


It’s time for M. Night Shyamalan to retire. There was a time when we all admired the man’s slow-burn style of tension and I never fully jumped on the “hate bandwagon” due to his early successes. But it’s now painfully obvious that Hollywood’s former golden boy is drunk off his own hype and his projects have become increasingly lazy and self-indulgent. The Happening not only continues the downward spiral of cinematic abortions The Village and Lady in the Water, it may be the final nail in the coffin for this once-promising filmmaker.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

It’s impossible to discuss the sheer stupidity of this film without divulging the big secret behind the threat (which isn’t much a secret now, thanks to internet spoilers). There’s a reason the trailers don’t tell you what is “happening” because, truth be told, it’s not much of anything. Shyamalan’s paper-thin plot revolves around a wave of suicides that are triggered by toxic winds made by the Earth’s plants. It’s nature’s defense mechanism against mankind’s global pollution or so the characters say. So in a nutshell, The Happening is ninety minutes of people running from immobile trees; a hybrid of An Inconveinent Truth and Day of the Triffids that somehow manages to be less intense than an Al Gore speech.

The film starts promisingly enough with several well-staged suicides that get the ball rolling, but it all goes south the second Shyamalan introduces his cast. The only thing worse than being trapped in a plague is being trapped alongside science teacher Elliot (Wahlberg) and wife Alma (Deschanel), two of the worst attempts at “quirky” characters you’ll ever have to endure. These two are superb actors, but Shyamalan mis-directs them through the worst performances of their careers. To make matters worse, he attempts to add marital strife with a subplot dedicated to Dechanel’s guilt about her “infedelity” which consists of eating dessert with a male friend without her hubby’s knowledge. I’m not making this up.

The Happening reviewWatching The Happening has never made it more obvious that all Shyamalan’s characters act alike. No one ever freaks out or panics at the horror. They just talk morosely, speaking in short grammatically-correct sentences that are stilted as all hell. Take this exchange:

Wahlberg: What’s going on?
Train Conductor: We’ve lost contact.
Wahlberg: With whom?
Train Conductor: Everyone.

The entire film consists of conversations like this, with the occassional menacing shot of a tree rustling its branches. By the time characters start outrunning the wind (much like the folks in The Day After Tomorrow outran the ice age) its clear Shyamalan has run out of ideas entirely. It should be noted that The Happening differs from the rest of his films in two ways. First, M. Night doesn’t cast himself (who can forget his massive role in Lady in the Water as a magical writer who changes the world?). Second, the film doesn’t have the signature twist ending, although I would’ve actually preferred one given the random anticlimax that wraps the film. It’s almost as if Shyamalan thinks we’ll give him a standing ovasion based soley on the fact that he’s breaking his own rules. But it all goes to show how inept he is without his old bag of tricks.

The Happening reviewThe film also preaches environmental issues with all the intellect of a soy-happy film school hippie. I don’t think anyone will rush to purchase hybrid cars after sitting through this, but I do know that people will mob ticket booths for refunds. Bravo, M. Night. You’ve slowed down the circulation of money thus sparing more innocent trees from being cut down.

So without further ado, here are the four things I learned from The Happening:

1. Mood rings are actual science.
2. Never hitch a ride with Dante Hicks.
3. Tera misu can destroy a marriage.
4. Oxygen can’t get into locked houses

Shyamalan has made a big deal about his first R-rating, which has become a marketing gimmick unto itself, but it’s barely noticeable in the end. Virtually all the violence has been shown in the trailers and the movie’s few curse words just barely nudge this over the PG-13 barrier (not that any rating could help this mess). If it weren’t so dreadfully slow and tedious, The Happening might’ve even joined the Showgirls pantheon of bad movies. It was reported that the title was changed from The Green Effect to The Happening by Fox executives, but I have a better title: M. Night Shyamalan’s Breaking Wind. Maybe those unfunny Meet the Spartans/Epic Movie losers can use that when they parody this one.

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2 out of 5

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  • PelusaMG

    It’s interesting, but it seems many people here want M.Night to do what he has done before (i.e. twist ending), but then (for example) Rob Zombie is blasted for doing the same old thing again and again in his films…

    Take your pick people!!!

    • G.D.

      People want Night to do what he has done before…make good movies.

      People want Zombie to do what he hasn’t done before…make good movies.

  • green eyed monster

    2 knives was really generous, I too can’t wait for the DFF. Good God, it was so just so bad.

  • Blockbuster

    Signs sucked balls. Giant hairy monkey balls.

    On a lighter note:

    Am I the only one who thought of South Park’s Global Warming episode “Two Days Before The Day After Tomorrow”?

  • Agonistes

    People are too unfair to Shyamalan: Unbreakable mas good, as well as Signs. The Village had great atmosphere but the twist wasnt what people where hoping for. i even think that one of the great problems of the twist was that it leaked out in the net before the premiere. He has become the man that people loves to hate. I havent seen the movie, it probably sucks, but one shouldnt mark him forever.

    • Sirand

      He will never live this one down. Ever.

  • Hunter1006

    From Roger Ebert’s 3-star review:

    “They walk on, the wind moaning ominously behind them, and come to the isolated country home of Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley), a very odd old lady. Here they eat and spend the night and other events take place, and Elliot and Alma find an opportunity to discuss their love and reveal some secrets and speculate about what dread manifestation has overtaken the world.”

    This is exactly what I was afraid of hearing about in the film.

  • Tsotha-lanti

    Reading the reviews I think M. Night Shyamalan should instead have went with my guess that the threat would turn out to be either Satan, or apes. Perhaps both at once, as in Satanic apes.

    Or he should have kept the same basic conceit, but instead of having people commit suicide it should cause a mutant-zombie-thing-apocalypse so MNS could fucking RUN WITH IT and make the wackiest zombie apocalypse movie ever. THAT, I’d pay to see. :)

  • Rottenjesus

    Oh I can’t wait for the DFF on this one. Oh yes.

  • Doc Block

    They’re releasing this in June and have stuck to this release date all year and yet, the darker and harder R rated Midnight Meat Train gets kicked around like the middle child. I’m absolutely sick of the bullshit!

  • Hunter1006

    I hope this bombs harder than THE LOVE GURU and MEET DAVE.

  • Cash Bailey

    He can’t retire yet. He still has to make THE LAST AIRBENDER, his epic trilogy based on the greatest animated action series of all time, AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER.

    And if he fucks THAT up he should retire because he has a epic, richly-drawn piece of material to work from. It’s already right there in front of him. All he has to do it not fuck it up.

    • Impure159

      Is this serious? Is he really making a movie based on that? You know he’ll fuck it up right?

      • Doc Block

        He’ll put a ridiculous twist at the end.

        • Impure159

          It will turn out there never was an avatar and the entire storyline took place in the Matrix.

      • Cash Bailey

        It’s a done deal. He’s well into pre-production on it and, as an encouraging sign, has been working very closely with the show’s creators on developing it.

        This will be his LORD OF THE RINGS and if he fucks it up he should be driven out of film-making forever.

        AVATAR; THE LAST AIRBENDER is a sublime piece of work. Nothing less than transcendent brilliance will satisfy its fans.

  • Spaceshark

    Maybe in India, eating tiramisu with someone who isn’t your husband can get you stoned? Or wait, I think that was Arabia…yes, definitely Arabia.

  • What The Cat Dragged In

    That’s really too bad that Night couldn’t get his shit together for this one. I haven’t read the script, but I know a few who had and they all hated what they read.

    Too bad. I still think “The Sixth Sense” is really good, and I even like “Unbreakable.”

Andrew Kasch