Happening, The (2008)

Author: Wes R.
Submitted by: Wes R.   Date : 2009-10-21 19:26

Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, and John Leguizamo

Reviewed by: Wes R.

“Alright, there appears to be an event happening. Central Park was just hit by what seems to be a terrorist attack. They're not clear on the scale yet. It's some kind of airborne chemical toxin that's been released in and around the park. They said to watch for warning signs. The first stage is confused speech. The second stage is physical disorientation, loss of direction. The third stage... is fatal.”

M. Night Shyamalan took the horror world by storm with his blockbuster thriller, The Sixth Sense. Complete with an ending that took most audiences by surprise, the film paved the way for Shyamalan thrillers like Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, and Lady in the Water. Losing a majority of his apparent fanbase after the back-to-back mixed reactions to The Village and Lady in the Water, Shyamalan aimed to reclaim his status as a premiere horror with a spec script titled "The Green Effect". All major studios passed on it before 20th Century Fox finally gave in and gave it the greenlight. Retitled The Happening, would this be the film to silence all of his naysayers or would this fasten yet another nail into M. Night's cinematic coffin?

Something terrible is happening. People everywhere are freezing in place, from disorientation, then their ability to speak and communicate is taken away, and finally... they commit suicide in a manner of ghastly ways. Those remaining attempt to figure out what could be the cause of the bizarre occurances. Is it a terrorist attack using bio-weaponry? Or does the answer to the mysterious plague of suicides have a much more supernatural explanation? Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are a young couple going through typical young couple problems. Their problems, of course, become much more complicated with the odd events that have suddenly thrust them into survival mode. Not knowing who or what they are up against, will they... and the rest of the human species... possibly survive?

What was the point of this movie? Was it horror? Was it social commentary? Nothing worked about it, at all. I typically hate to give away spoilers, but with something as ridiculous as this, I couldn't care less. Basically, Marky Mark and Zooey spend 90 minutes trying not to piss off plants, trees, and grass. Yes folks, this film is really that silly, folks. I knew the exact moment when I was going to hate the movie... when they start talking about 'plants' as a possible answer to the occurances, and then just so happen to stroll upon a guy who is a plant expert. Dead serious. They run into a plant expert on their journey. I've never actually groaned during the viewing of a movie, but I'm pretty sure this scene elicited this response from me. The whole time I was like "please don't let this be what is really going on" and you know what, it was. Pathetic. I mean, I almost got up and left this one, and I never get up and leave movies. I feel that I owe the filmmaker at least enough of a chance to sit through to the end and then make a fair assessment. This one tried my patience to the very breaking point. Had it been another half hour in length like his other films, I really and truly think I would've left. The movie also sets up and breaks rules when it is convenient for the script. For example, "it won't get us if we're in a small group" works for a few scenes, but then suddenly it doesn't work. The whole apparent "message" of the film is so overblown and in your face that it makes The Day After Tomorrow and Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster look like films that actually try to promote pollution. I know that pollution is a very bad thing and I don't mind horror films going into the subject in social commentary, but c'mon. Don't insult my intelligence like this film did.

Nearly every scene was filled with bad dialogue, and bad line delivery. It's hard to describe Wahlberg's awful performance, except to say that he very nearly speaks in falsetto. It's a truly bizarre performance. Portraying a teacher, I think he was trying to channel "bookworm" instead of the typical tough guy he is usually cast as, but it just did not work here. I kept making excuses throughout the movie, because up until this film I was such a great fan of Shyamalan. I would say to myself... "Maybe it's supposed to be this hammy and bad. Maybe this is his take on the 50s and 60s Z grade sci-fi/horror genre". Partially, I was right. M. Night now claims the film is a throwback to paranoia horror films like The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But, no. I'm sorry. Not buying it, here. Look at The Mist. Definitely a throwback to 50s and 60s sci-fi/horror paranoia films, yet it had great performances and writing. Same apparent intent, but very different end results in the two films. Marky Mark should be embarassed. The usually wonderful Zooey should be embarassed. Most of all, M. Night should be ashamed of himself. Seriously. When John Leguizamo is the best actor in the film, you know you're in deep trouble. James Newton Howard's score was deserving of a much better film, most of the time (hey, at least he wasn't ripping off an old "Twilight Zone" episode this time out).

So, at least the death scenes make it watchable, right? Wrong. The highly advertised R rating of the film is also pretty laughable. If you take out the fairly bloodless deaths of the two kids, this could've easily gotten by with a PG-13. None of the deaths were very gory or interesting whatsoever. Even the much talked about "lawnmower" death scene ended up being laughable in its execution. As a horror film, this was M. Night's biggest failure. He was too afraid to go all-out in the "meat" of the film. Giving audiences a chance to nervously laugh grimly along with the suicide scenes takes away from their visual and visceral punch. The FX may have been R Rated, but the tone is strictly TV movie/PG-13 safe. I know he thought by going the more subtle and mysterious route that it might be creepier but it just makes the scenes hokey and ineffective. The audience I saw the film with laughed at so many serious moments, and I laughed right along with them. I realize, I may come across as unduly harsh here, but I really try my best not to hate any movie. I realize that not all movies are for everybody. Just because I may not like a certain movie doesn't mean someone else might not. So, when I write reviews, if there's a movie I don't really care a lot for but think someone else may dig it, I say "rent it". I've only "trashed" two or three so far. But I honestly can't imagine anyone of any mindset getting anything remotely resembling entertainment from The Happening. Even with a case of beer, a huge bowl of popcorn, and some of your closest movie buddies around, I think most would be far more annoyed by the end of the movie than to continue watching it in the "so bad, it's hilarious" mindset.

I sat there hoping that some great twist would save us at the end. The "twist", though, is that M. Night is a filmmaker capable of making horrible movies. Any studio in their right mind who would fund another awful film like this deserves to have their money blown and never to return. It is truly amazing that such a genuinely terrible film can come from someone who was once as talented as I used to think M. Night was. And you know what the worst thing was? The bar was set really, really, really, really low for The Happening. In most people's minds, all Shyamalan had to do was make a movie that was better than Lady in the Water. That's absolutely all he had to do. And he didn't. Not by a long shot. You know, Lady in the Water was bad, but at least it had a point. "Okay, M. Night, it's a bedtime story. I get that. I didn't like it, but I got it." I really have zero idea what M. Night was trying to do here, at all. It doesn't work as horror. It is too in-your-face to serve as effective social commentary. What's left? Green preaching propaganda? It's certainly bad enough to be a propaganda film. It's a complete wreck like few others I can recall. Even in reading every single word I tell you about this movie, those of you who have not seen it won't have any idea how truly horrible it is, and I wish there were enough words to truly convey it. Some may blame studio intervention, but folks, even if the studio made M. Night add certain things and take certain things out, the dialogue is 100% his. The direction is 100% his. Nothing about this movie works. Not a single scene, not a single sub-plot, not a single character. To put it bluntly, you can't polish a turd. I wish up on wishes that I could flush this one from my brain forever because it feels like someone took a dump on my very soul. It makes me sad that such a bad movie can possibly have so much big studio money behind it. I hope to never see a movie this bad in theaters again, because if I do, I will very likely quit watching movies altogether. All this said, it's THE MOST EFFECTIVE film I have ever witnessed. Yes. While watching the film, I was disoriented, then speechless, and by the end, I just wanted to kill myself. Trash it!

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