Saturday, 26 September 2020
The Happening
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Thursday, 19 June 2008 00:00

Thumbnail“What’s that over there? Oh, the terror!! The horror!! The Happening!!!

M. Night Shyamalan plunders our wallets once again with his most feeble attempt yet to win back audience approval. Having been bestowed golden boy status in Hollywood after the success of his first film The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has been indulging himself in progressively worse and worse filmmaking. Critics hate him and audiences are growing cold. Like a child who breaks his own toys, it seems that Shyamalan is too self indulgent to bring even his own trippy ideas to life. The Happening is a ridiculous cautionary tale that might actually have had potential if treated with an iota of care.

Mark Wahlberg plays a biology teacher – wait a minute… Hold it right there… I’m already lost. Mark Wahlberg? A biology teacher?! There goes my suspension of disbelief! Marky Mark can teach me biology any day, but I doubt I’d learn much more than the “birds and the bees”. I’m just teasing, since we all know Wahlberg is more than just a pretty face. He’s shown his acting chops with great performances in Boogy Nights and more recently The Departed. So what happened here? Choppy, emotionless dialogue certainly didn’t help. I have a feeling that about halfway through filming the entire cast was wishing their contracts weren’t airtight.

Getting back on track, Elliot Moore (Wahlberg) is teaching at a Philadelphia school when news breaks that a mysterious illness is spreading through New York. It seems to affect the nervous system and eventually causes people to kill themselves. Fearing a terrorist attack, people begin evacuating the cities. Moore, his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and their friends board a train to get out of town, but end up stranded in the countryside with nowhere to go and the disease quickly spreading all over the state around them. It isn’t until they meet up with a couple of tree-hugging hippies that Moore comes up with a half-baked theory that plants are releasing toxins into the air as a self-defense mechanism. Humans have become such a threat to their survival that plants are reacting with a rapid evolution that has the power to eradicate mankind.

ThumbnailI actually really like the idea behind this environmental fable. When you think about it, humans really are like a cancer or parasite, rapidly eating away at the planet that gives us life. It makes sense to think that our demise would come, not from some man-made mechanism, but quietly and forcefully from nature itself. The planet will become immune to us as a disease. The way this happens in the movie is intriguing and a few scenes are very effective at creating a sense of dread. But after a while, Shyamalan loses any sense of dignity there might have been and the scenes just become increasingly comical. I was laughing out loud many times when I probably shouldn’t have been.

The performances were horrendous – no thanks to the stilted dialogue and undeveloped characters. I really didn’t care about or like any of these characters enough to root for them. In fact I was rooting for the plants (forgive the pun). The relationship between Wahlberg and Deschanel was forced and unemotional. For once I didn’t want “true-love” to win out because frankly, the plants were more interesting! Especially with Deschanel using her, now patented, cutesy wide-eyed-pouty face the entire time.

In short, this movie felt way longer than it’s 90-minute run time. I appreciate the retro horror-movie feel, but not when the entire cast seemed to wish they were anywhere but on the set.