I’m a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s previous works, I even enjoyed Lady in the Water so it’s safe to say that I was looking forward to The Happening, his first R rated movie. There was a lot of promotion to the fact that it was Shyamalan’s first R rated movie, but after watching the movie you’re really got to wonder why it garnered such a rating. What’s ever more wondrous is how the movie was ever made in the first place. To say it was a disappointment would be a major understatement, to say it was terrible would just about hit the nail on its head.
The film opens in Central Park in New York City, where we come across a couple of women sitting on a bench reading a book and chit-chatting about where in the book they are. One of them hears what she thinks is a faint scream off in the distance, and asks her friend if she heard it. The friend starts to seem disoriented, having lost her place in the book she’s reading, and begins repeating herself. The other woman then looks up and sees everyone within view frozen in their tracks, and watches as her friend pulls what looks like a long knitting needle out of her hair, having been holding her hair up in a bun, and proceeds stick herself in the throat with it. From there we cut across the city and see people committing suicide en masse. This is probably the most chilling scene in the entire movie.
Cut to Philadelphia where we meet mild mannered science teacher Elliot Moore, played by Mark Wahlberg, and his friend Julian, a math teacher played by John Leguizamo. After having their school dismissed early, for what they believe to be a biological attack, the two friends decide to gather their families and head west by train. Elliot is joined by his wife Alma, played by Zooey Deschanel and Julian’s daughter Jess, played by Ashlyn Sanchez. Things rapidly get out of control as whatever is happening spreads throughout the Northeastern United States, eventually leaving our group stranded in some small community in Pennsylvania. How far will it spread and when will it end? No one knows.
The Happening is slow-moving, as M. Night’s movies tend to be, but aside from one scene in an old house that actually gave me the creeps for a few moments, there is no payoff. You witness people dropping like flies, but there’s no real explanation as to why. Only a theory, and a weak one at that. You don’t have an emotional connection to any of the characters, so you don’t feel sympathetic when people die. At times you’ll find yourself laughing at the absurdity.
Perhaps the most damning thing about the film is the acting, which can be described as atrocious. Mark Wahlberg’s a decent actor, but this has to be one of his worst roles. The character comes across as extremely goofy and it’s as if Wahlberg is trying to hard to make him that way. Deschanel’s performance was so muted that at times you forgot she was even there. Leguizamo had probably the best performance, but it was short lived.
Going in, I was hopeful that this might actually turn out to be decent, being a Shyamalan movie and all. I hoped that maybe we’d be led on and then forced to do an about face with one of Shyamalan’s famous twists, sadly this was not the case. Unfortunately it’s as bad as people are saying.