I’m not sure exactly why, but I’ve seen every M. Night Shyamalan movie since his 3rd, and possibly most popular film, The Sixth Sense. Well, I haven’t seen Split yet, and until tonight I’d never seen The Happening. For many people, his films started being bad after The Village. However, I really liked that film, but didn’t enjoy Signs or Lady in the Water. Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for The Happening and, finding it hard to find a redeemable quality, it gets the Avoid Like the Plague rating.
After strange events, initially associated with a terrorist attack, in New York shows mass suicides residents in nearby Philadelphia look to get away. Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), a science teacher, and Julian (John Leguizamo), a match teacher, seek to leave the city with Alma Moore (Zooey Deschanel) and Julian’s daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). The apparent plague is spreading towards them and they seek rescue and answers to the cause.
One may assume that Michael Bay used The Happening to cast Mark Wahlberg as an inventor in Age of Extinction. His casting as a science teacher who some how becomes a minor hero in this film is pretty questionable. I’m a Wahlberg fan when he’s cast in the right role, but this movie he really seems to be unsure of how to play the character. At one point he’s asked by a character if he’s planning on killing them and his response of, “What…No,” is about as silly as the rest of the plot.
No redeeming qualities in my eyes
Really, I don’t feel like there is a great performance in the movie. Deschanel is a little more subdued than in other performances, but her character is kind of obnoxious. Leguizamo doesn’t do a bad job and the little girl isn’t given much to do. In fact, her character is written to not show much emotion and so predominately stands around looking more confused than anything.
To be fair, the characters have a reason to be confused and what they’re seeing is definitely scary. There are some horrific deaths that some of the characters witness or at least we do. The ways people kill themselves vary and one even lays down in front of a large lawnmower. Still, there aren’t any moments where I felt the weight of what was going on except for a construction worker who witnesses his co-workers falling to their death.
Shyamalan attempts to include his trademark twist, but I feel like it was a bit predictable. I did know what the premise of the film was though so maybe I wouldn’t have seen it coming had I seen this at its release. However, the story feels week and at times seems to not even follow its own rules. The characters also never seem to fully understand exactly what happened and weak TV exposition is supposed to offer some idea. There are possible immunities offered to a couple of the characters, but that’s only briefly mentioned.
So, trees are releasing a toxin or something into the air that makes people kill themselves. It appears to be triggered by hostility, but that’s never outright stated. Jess and Alma are both said to hide their emotions, which could be how they survive so long, but that’s also not really clear or developed. It appears positive emotions allow Alma and Elliot to survive and that is if nature was done killing us. It started only in the New England area, but the film ends with a scene in another country showing signs of the same affliction. Implying, nature was only getting started like the expositional man on the TV said.
I could definitely go back to a time where I didn’t see this one. It’s not worse than The Last Airbender or Jaden Smith’s abysmal performance in After Earth. Nevertheless, it’s definitely not a film I want to revisit. Luckily, I picked it up on DVD for $2 at a local Goodwill. I don’t know if I keep waiting for him to recapture the magic he had in his first couple of hits, but I’ll see Split. Hopefully, it finally will not make me regret seeing an M. Night Shyamalan movie.