Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

The Happening

Review by Tony DiVincenzo

Well, it finally “happened”; I’ve given up on M. Night Shyamalan.  As a huge fan of the thriller genre, I thoroughly enjoyed The Sixth Sense, and eagerly awaited Shyamalan’s next “masterpiece.”  Following the decent but unspectacular Unbreakable and Signs that left me hoping for more, what has followed has taken Shyamalan’s reputation as an up-and-coming genius and turned him into one of the most overrated writer/directors in the business.  The Happening is no exception, and from this point forward, I’ve convinced myself that this film is the last time I let Shyamalan fool me into theaters for another disappointment.  From the poorly executed premise, to the cardboard acting, to the incredibly ineffective scare tactics, Shyamalan’s The Happening, simply put, is a thriller that fails to thrill.

Truth be told, for all its flaws, The Happening opens well enough.  New York falls victim to an unknown attack that leaves the city in mass panic and, for the time being, the suspense is real.  However, whatever builds up from the beginning as a city under siege slowly comes to grips with what’s happening quickly deflates as the movie progresses.  It’s difficult to place the finger of blame on any one particular aspect of the film, as there are many elements at fault, but it’s clear soon after you pass the opening scenes that you’re in for a long and ultimately boring and unfulfilling ride.

Part of the vice (and, interestingly enough, the virtue) of The Happening is that the cause of the disaster remains unseen throughout most of the movie.  While an unseen evil, when written properly, can create a palpable suspense throughout the entire film as the audience’s anxiety builds while dreading when the “monster” will reveal itself, Shyamalan fails in creating that effect and thus, makes the movie even more bland than if we had something on screen at which to direct our fears.  Shyamalan, in the beginning, attempts to throw a few random possibilities our way, as though he believes the audience is dumb enough to ignore the not-so-subtle hints as to what is really causing the catastrophe.  However, soon after, he jettisons the alternatives and reveals early on the lame “monster” everyone is running from, which effectively kills much of the suspense,  leaving the patented Shyamalan “twist” as the movie’s only salvation.  I could save much suffering by just coming out with what it is (if anything)… but that would be too easy (and wouldn’t make final cut anyway).

Whatever suspense Shyamalan intended to come from the characters falls flat on its face; it seemed like the actors tried their hardest throughout the film to bring some semblance of emotion and realism to the panic (and please note that I said “tried”).  Mark Wahlberg showcased his true talent in The Departed but, here, is absolutely abysmal.  His character is branded as a weenie from the start and, as annoying as he may be, Wahlberg convinces me of that much.  Which is all fine and dandy, but when Shyamalan later tries to paint Wahlberg as a take-charge, can-do character, it’s laughably unconvincing.  Remarkably, Zooey Deschanel’s character is even more annoying, as she comes off so distant and air-headed that several times during the movie, I would’ve cheered to see her killed off because I just couldn’t take it anymore.  The contrived “conflict” between the two is not only incredibly unconvincing and stupid (as are most of the relationships in this movie), it provides nothing of substance to the movie other than to fill time and create unnecessary dialogue.  John Leguizamo’s character is the best acted of the movie by far (not that that’s saying much) but, regrettably, his character is egregiously underused. 

Throughout almost the entire movie, in a situation where normal people would be screaming, running around almost uncontrollably in complete terror, the crowd appears disinterested in the fact they are in mortal danger; they stumble around aimlessly, taking their sweet time to escape certain death.  At some points, things become almost comical as Shyamalan, hoping to interject terror, uses the score to overlay a bland and ordinary screenshot or scene.  I chuckled at M. Night’s expense a few times during the movie, including during a deliberately comedic scene where Wahlberg talks to a plant.  Simply put, the final product is too ridiculous to be believed.  While certain scenes that were clearly meant to be dramatic pull it off, for the most part, the feeling of dread and panic is clearly forced.

Another Shyamalan movie, another disappointment.  What made things worse is that as I walked out of the theater, a disturbing thought ran through my mind: The Happening is rocket fuel for the next Friedberg and Seltzer movie.  (Shudder.)  As much as I wish Shyamalan would take a step back and look at The Sixth Sense to refresh himself with the quality that made him famous, The Happening made me question whether or not he even realizes just how bad he’s gotten.  How unfortunate.

Recommendation: Wait for the DVD rental, because DVD players have stop and eject buttons.

2/5 stars (And before you ask, I reserve a 1-star rating for only those films with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, such as films directed by the aforementioned Friedberg and Seltzer.)


Review by Chris Maitland

M. Night Shyamalan was first introduced to us back in 1999 with a little movie called The Sixth Sense, a film that gave him a reputation as a versatile, up-and-coming filmmaker. Nine years and five films later, he has killed the reputation. He has been stringing together dud after dud since then. Unbreakable was bad, Signs was bad, The Village was just awful, and  Lady In The Water was pure garbage. And as for The Happening?  Well, lets just say Mr. Shyamalan has outdone himself this time.

This movie has the vibe of a tree-hugger film about saving the Earth and Mother Nature, but if that's the message M. Night is trying to get across, then he failed....miserably.

I think he has left his niche as a thriller writer; he just doesn’t have the sense of how to produce chills anymore. On the up-side, I think he should go into writing comedies because this movie is flat-out hilarious. From the stupid plot to the downright laughable effects, this movie succeeds nowhere. And as for the dialogue, it's some of the worst I’ve ever heard.  Honestly, it sounded to me like it was written by an 80-year-old woman who loves to intersperse cursing with archaic goody-two-shoes phrases.

And oh yeah, let’s talk about the acting.  I feel very sorry for Mark Wahlberg; I know he can act (he was great in The Departed among many other films), but here the script just dooms him. There is actually a sequence that consists solely of Wahlberg staring blankly at the camera for two solid minutes… I honestly wondered if he was contemplating getting the Funky Bunch getting back together, and after this disaster-piece, I wouldn’t blame him. There was no chemistry whatsoever between Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, either, who played their scenes together like two emotionless robots. The supporting cast, which basically consisted of a bunch of characters that were vastly unimportant, were also really bad.

Overall, M. Night should pack up his bags and stop directing. He is bad at it and he needs to stop doing it.  But if he insists on continuing, then he should switch genres and become a comedic director, because I see him being good at that. The Happening was basically one of the worst movie going experiences of the year for me; it was supposed to be scary, suspenseful, thrilling, and it turned out to be none of that.  There were a lot of laughs, though somehow I doubt that was what the movie was going for.

1 / 5 stars


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