The Happening

April 29, 2010

The Happening

The Happening

M. Night Shyamalan’s terrible attempt at an eco-horror film, probably proof that a solid film director, with Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense, can lose his touch.  The acting is terrible, the story is extremely contrived and the allegedly intense death scenes end up being more laughable then anything else.  This film has a couple of interesting deaths in it, but even the deaths aren’t what they should have been for an R rated film.

The film starts out with Elliot Moore teaching a class and talking about how some scientific events, such as bees disappearing, won’t ever be fully explained.  At the same time all hell breaks loose around Central Park as people start killing themselves.  It is reported to the teachers as a terrorist attack and people start to flee New York City.  Elliot meets up with his wife and a fellow teacher and his daughter and head out on a train to Philadelphia.  As they are on the train people start getting calls about attacks in Philadelphia and other locations.  The train is stopped in a rural town and everyone disembarks.  Julian, the fellow teacher of Elliot’s leaves his daughter, Jess, with Elliot and his wife, Alma so he can head off to look for his wife who he has lost contact with and who was in Princeton.  Elliot, Alma, and Jess continue further into the country with other passengers from the train and their numbers slowly dwindle as more are infected by the airborne toxin.  Every time it approaches the wind picks up violently.  Eventually it is only Elliot, Alma, and Jess left and they seek refuge in a remote house in the country owned by a suspicious old lady.  The old lady ends up going mad and killing herself and Elliot, Alma, and Jess are able to hide from the attack that Elliot has now conjectured is nature getting its revenge.  It subsides and those left alive in the US are faced with a new world.  The film then leaves us with the phenomena starting over in France.

When I heard about the idea for the story, I thought that there could be potential for it.  Nature taking its revenge is an interesting idea and with what they teased in the trailers, basically the Central Park scene, it looks like it could be a creepy film.  However, the acting in this film is so terrible and the story ends up matching it with how bad it is, it doesn’t hold up.  Mark Wahlberg, who has given some very good performances before, completely fails at being a school teacher who is worried about his marriage.  He comes off like Robert Langdon from Dan Brown’s books: The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, as someone who can do no wrong and he ends up just ticking you off as you watch him.  Zooey Deschanel plays his wife and gives an equally as putrid performance.  She always plays the nice girl and it is hard to put her in a situation where she is cheating on her husband as she again plays the role as the nice girl, there is also no believable panic from her when the phenomena is coming for them.  Her emotions are so closely and sweetly reigned in that her performance fails.  The rest of the performances are basically as unbearable.  John Leguizamo is probably the best thing the film has going for it in terms of performances and he has minimal screen time as Julian.  Wahlberg, Deschanel, and Ashlyn Sanchez dominate the screen time, Sanchez as Jess, and a kid actor can’t carry the film or counteract the phoned in performance by Wahlberg and Deschanel.

Visually there are a couple of good scenes, mainly the opening Central Park scene that is a little bit creepy.  After that the poor acting takes over and the deaths are so contrived and poorly executed that they fail to send a shiver up your spine.  I’ve seen PG-13 films that have more terrifying death scenes then this film.  M. Night Shyamalan fails to get anything from his talent, and normally he is able to build up suspense, even in The Village he does this fairly well, but there is no suspense in this film.  I think most likely Shyamalan needs to get off his high horse as a writer/director and allow someone else to write for him and simply direct.

Overall this film doesn’t offer anything.  It might be worth spending the time to watch the opening sequence, but that is about it.  The acting and story are so bad that it has passed the point of being funny bad and is just bad.  Shyamalan is past his prime, so if you want to watch one of his films, I recommend Unbreakable instead as the only really good work that he put out.

Entertainment Grade: D-

Critical Grade: D

Overall Grade: D-


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