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It Ainít Happening...
by Matt Forsman on Jun 13, 2008
M.Night Shyamalan first made his mark as the writer/director of the cleverly constructed and well executed The Sixth Sense. Shyamalanís subsequent efforts have (arguably) become progressively worse. In a desperate attempt to recapture some of the magic of his first film, the trailer for The Happening only mentions The Sixth Sense and Signs (the best reviewed Shyamalan films). For those clinging to the hope that The Happening will rival The Sixth Sense, prepare for disappointment.
The Happening starts out promisingly enough with a pretty intriguing opening sequence in Central Park. People mill about aimlessly, drinking coffee, walking their dogs, running, etc. Suddenly a brisk breeze blows through the trees and everyone stops dead in their tracks staring blankly. The next thing you know a woman plunges a stick into her neck killing herself. A few minutes later, a drove of construction workers just start stepping off the top of a building, plummeting to their death.
Itís meant to be scary, but The Happening quickly becomes ridiculous and completely implausible. A cop shoots himself in the head. Before heís even hit the ground a cabdriver gets out of his cab and takes the gun and shoots himself in the head. The coup de grace comes later in the film when a man lies down in the grass in front of a riding lawnmower to facilitate his demise. Itís the most unintentionally funny moment on film this year!
Unfortunately, The Happening elicits very few "real" laughs and very few moments of real anxiety and terror. Rather, the film elicits groans and sighs more than anything else. Through some contrived news broadcasts on television we learn that this Ďvirusí apparently inhibits our instincts for self-preservation (or something along these lines).
I could kind of understand a virus impairing our ability to avoid things that are dangerous, but the idea that a virus would compel us to pick up a gun and shoot ourselves in the head is just too farfetched. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that the virus is the result of some kind of environmental backlash, which is intriguing to a point, but Shyamalan undermines this by making the manifestation of the virus completely unbelievable.
Rounding things out are some pretty half-baked performances by Mark Wahlberg and Zoeey Deschanel. Mark Wahlberg plays a high school science teacher Elliot Moore. The idea of Mark playing a high school science teacher is enough of a stretch, but itís pretty clear that Wahlberg was not particularly comfortable in this role. Zooey Deschanel doesnít do much better as Elliotís doe-eyed, confused wife Alma. Sheís annoying from the very first scene as her eyes widen upon seeing her cellphone vibrate. Her eyes become increasingly wider with each subsequent vibration. Itís just absurd.
But, you canít put all the blame on Mark and Zooey. The dialogue theyíre forced to recite is laughably bad and contrived for most of the film. Their marriage is on the rocks, but itís hard to really give a shit about either of them as Shyamalan does so little to reveal anything of substance about either one of them.
The Happening has the seed of an intriguing idea, but the film is poorly executed and clunky in every facet. Shyamalanís version of An Inconvenient Truth is poorly executed and clunky in pretty much every facet.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
by Matt Forsman on Jun 13, 2008