Happening, The (2008)
Reviewed 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.
Watching 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 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.
2 out of 5
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