M. Night Shyamalan hit the big time in 1999 with his third film, The Sixth Sense. It saw his career skyrocket from relative unknown to claims that he was the next Spielberg. However, since the release of The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan’s career has been on a steady decline. It hit an all-time low with 2006’s Lady In The Water, a film so utterly self-indulgent and ridiculous that many thought the director had committed career suicide. However, this year we get his follow up in The Happening. Is it a
return to form?
The Happening begins with an event in Central Park that defies explanation. People stop moving and then inexplicably commit suicide. In Pennsylvania, the faculty of a school is called together and told to go home due to a ‘terrorist attack.’ We then join Elliot Moore, a science teacher and his family as they get as far away from the large cities as possible. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that what his happening is nothing to do with a terrorist attack, and may be something far more sinister and dangerous.
I dunno where to start with this film. The premise is interesting. People start dying and there’s no explanation as to why. But this has been done before. In many movies. The problem with The Happening is, it’s all premise, and no story. The opening twenty minutes or so do pique your interest. The mystery is set up and well, that’s pretty much it. After that, the film goes nowhere. And for a film that’s ninety minutes long, this is a detrimental thing. The script is utterly farcical. The dialogue is clunky at best, and laugh-out loud at worst. When characters aren’t standing around explaining things to each other and revealing exposition, they’re attempting to discuss relationships with each other that are never fully fleshed out. When we finally do find out what’s happening, eye brows are raised and belief flies out the window. In fact, the film would have been far more credible if it had accepted it’s B-Movie tendencies and had the trees actually start physically assaulting people. At least then Shyamalan could have stopped trying so hard to be grave and serious and could have had some fun.
The acting in the film is quite honestly, appalling. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, the two leads in the film are capable of far better performances. Yet here, they’re no better than amateurs. At times, I found myself staring in awe of how bad their acting was. Yet it’s not entirely their fault. The script they have to work with is very weak, leaving them with very little motivation and dialogue that just sounds awful. It’s never fully explained as to why we’re following these people or why we should care about their plight. Indeed, when Wahlberg starts spouting science, the film takes a turn into the comedic.
And there are plenty of comedic moments in the film. I don’t need a twist in a movie. In fact, sometimes a twist can be a bit of a cop-out. But it seems the twist in The Happening is that the comedic moments aren’t funny and the non-comedic moments are unintentionally hilarious. And it’s these moments that are the only reason to see The Happening. In one hilarious sequence, an old woman literally starts head-butting her way through a wall. While it’s supposed to be horrific and scary, the entire audience I was watching the film with were in convulsions of laughter. This really is a terrible, terrible film.
M. Night Shyamalan may not have committed career suicide with Lady In The Water, but The Happening does not in any way redeem him after that awful film. It seems that Shyamalan has run out of steam and now is more interested in promoting himself as the saviour of man-kind. Something he started in his last film. The closing moments of The Happening feature a ham-fisted attempt at a warning to the audience about environmental disaster. But it’s such a badly conceived moment that it actually made me want to set fire to a pile of tyres just to piss Shyamalan off. This is a bad film. Poorly scripted, appallingly acted, with a premise that is kind of ridiculous and no third act, there’s nothing really redeeming about it.