reviewed by Andrew James
The film opens with a shot of central park and almost instantly, partly because of director M. Night Shyamalan's incredible ability at setting mood, we can tell something is amiss. Several people just simply stop in their tracks and look bewildered. Then, they start inexplicably committing suicide. Cut to Mark Wahlberg's character as a school, science teacher finding out with the rest of the faculty what is going on. At first they believe it to be a terrorist attack. But as Wahlberg and a select few of others go on the run, they start to realize it's a lot more sinister.
The basic premise of the movie is pretty simple, but what Shyamalan might be trying to say by the end is a bit muddled and vague. Without going into spoiler territory, the message of the film seems clear, but conflicting messages give cause for a bit of head scratching.
The Happening's chief strength is it's oddball mystery (or more aptly, "wtf is going on here?") and it's unique style and tone. Lots of great shots and creepy moments abound and it's quite the thrill to feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up during several of these moments. Unfortunately, the film is littered with unintentionally amusing moments that have the audience cackling along with some of the flattest, most embarrassing acting I've seen in a multi-plex in quite some time.
Reflecting back however, it's obvious that what Shyamalan was going for here is a throw-back to the B-movies of the 1950s. In that regard he's almost succeeded. The acting and some of the techniques utilized (a slow motion, "NOOOOOOO!" shot, etc), work really well in that vein; but trying to have both a cheesy B-movie and a serious, sci-fi thriller at the same time is difficult to do and I think the film fails on that level.
Here you'll see Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschenel delivering what is got to be the worst performances of their career. While embarrassing to watch, it's quite the joy to revel in the sheer badness. Even taking into account that the acting style is probably Shyamalan's intention, it doesn't take away from the fact that it's laughable and doesn't quite work as he probably hoped.
I did really enjoy the overall premise and what the film is trying to say. Shyamalan gives us the message without holding the audience' hand and several theories and ideas went through my head at the conclusion of the movie. Unfortunately there's just too much unintentional comedy and scenes that don't work to make this a really great story. At least the rules of The Happening are set and never stray - unlike the extraordinarily crappy Lady in the Water; of which a lot of parallels can be drawn from within The Happening.
Flixster Profile for The Happening