The Happening (2008)

Movie Critique

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Running Time: 90 mins

Many film critics and audiences alike were fascinated if not excited by the prospect of M. Night Shyamalan after he announced his arrival with The Sixth Sense back in 1999. The film earned him a best director nomination and won him the respect of many audiences around the world.

However, his promise has somewhat faded with the continuous disappointments put onto screen while many are starting to believe that he has completely lost his touch. Earlier this year Shyamalan released his latest creation, The Happening in which the north eastern states of America are attacked by what seems to be a biological toxin released into the air causing masses of people to commit suicide.

Wahlberg plays Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher who flees Philadelphia with his wife (Zooey Deschanel), colleague Julian (John Leguiazamo) and Julian's eight-year-old daughter Jess after hearing of the biological hazard in the area. As expected there are plenty of casualties on the way and enough disturbing suicide scenes to last a lifetime.

The story in itself is very deeply flawed and too often does Shyamalan take refuge behind just admitting his plots are inexplicable acts of nature. The story is inconclusive, inconsistent, unoriginal and in some parts completely unwatchable. There is no attempt made to make sense of what is happening and all that is left for the audience to take back are flimsy scraps of a hypothetical event of 'nature's fury.'

It's almost too cheesy to handle. Shyamalan's films have been notoriously science fiction based and seem to possess a repetitive thriller-like suspense right throughout. The Happening however poses a serious problem to audiences because unlike The Sixth Sense where there were 'dead people' to look out for or The Village with its werewolf like creatures in the forest, in this film you see people running away from literally the wind and the grass.

Shyamalan attempts to exploit the subject of nature fighting back even though his plot seems to fall rather short of apocalyptic. The story creates whimsical explanations to almost justify its very existence if not the sequence of events in the film while the title itself is a hint at how vague and sloppy the story is. The climactic scenes consisted of people brutally murdering themselves while posing no immediate threat to the people around them which reminded me of the suicide squads from The Life of Brian. The antagonist of the film being the trees and the wind made little in the way of suspense and the film was in no way terrifying.

Mark Wahlberg is certainly not the most talented actor we know but he certainly can put in a performance as he proved in Martin Scorsese's The Departed. The Happening however didn't really ask a lot from the actor to be fair and I think he did the best he could with a film that offered little or nothing for audiences to remember. His character was boring, predictable and as Shyamalan has proven in his more recent films was really one dimensional. His wife is played by Zooey Deschanel (Failure to Launch, Bridge to Terrabithia) who for some reason seems to annoy me in most of her roles. Her performance was neither memorable nor worth the amount she was paid.

However, there was one decent performance in the movie and it may turn out to be the one positive comment I have to make. It came by way of veteran comic actor John Leguizamo (Empire, Moulin Rouge) who gave a touching performance as Moore's friend and colleague. He plays a relatively minor role in the movie but is certainly the only thing good about it all but it still doesn't make it worthwhile.
After his directorial prowess showed signs of progressive deterioration, Shyamalan was maybe out to prove he could do worse with The Happening.

However, this was certainly not as bad as The Lady in the Water but was sufficiently rancid for me to recommend everyone stay away from it. The script which was also written by Shyamalan suggests that while his ideas and intentions may have been good he should maybe collaborate with a better writer for his next work. Still I believe with the directorial talent on display in early gems like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Shyamalan still has a trick up his sleeve and a comeback to make.

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