Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
M. Night Shyamalan
20th Century Fox
I am not an M. Night fanboy.
In my opinion, "The Happening" writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has always been a good director walking a thin line between greatness and mediocrity.
I've never hated any of M. Night's films, but neither have I considered them to be among my favorites.
Well, there's one exception..."Wide Awake," his pre-fame family film continues to be my favorite among his films.
M. Night has steadfastly denied being the "twist" director for which he has seemingly become most known. With "The Happening," he seems determined to prove his point.
Sure, there's no twist in "The Happening." There's also not much of a story, and no particular reason for anyone in the audience to care about anyone in the film.
In other words, with "The Happening" M. Night Shyamalan has made the film I never thought he would...irrelevant.
For a film called "The Happening," very little actually happens.
While M. Night manages to avoid most of his gimmicks in "The Happening," as in there being no twist endings and only the most subtle of cameos by the director himself, he seems to have lost touch with his ability to construct a story with substance, characters who stand for something and thrills that are suspenseful even when they are a tad manipulative.
In "The Happening," a surprisingly formulaic suspense thriller, "something" in the air is causing people in the Northeast U.S. to commit suicide. The storyline follows a core group of people fighting to survive including a high school science teacher (Mark Wahlberg), his wife (Zooey Deschanel, the teacher's friend and fellow teacher (John Leguizamo) and the friend's young daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez).
The worst part of "The Happening" isn't that it's a bad film. In fact, it's not a bad film. The worst part is that "The Happening" is such a stunningly bland and mediocre film that it's difficult to fathom that it's an M. Night film. Once upon a time, M. Night Shyamalan was a master, admittedly at times a manipulative master, of human emotions. With "The Happening," he seems to be reduced to forced and uninvolving histrionics and, worst of all, he seems to have reduced himself to relying on pointless action and modest gore over story and character development.
The first film of Shyamalan's to be rated "R," "The Happening" isn't nearly graphic enough to please gorehounds and the violence itself often feels awkwardly unnecessary in advancing the story.
The performances don't do much to help matters. While Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti managed to make sense of the nonsensical "Lady in the Water," Mark Wahlberg is woefully miscast here, John Leguizamo is under-developed and while Deschanel manages to shine in multiple scenes it never manages to add up to anything.
Only a too brief appearance by Betty Buckley, as a bitter recluse, manages to add up to much excitement.
"The Happening" is photographed utilizing Tak Fujimoto's usual somber tones, though it fails to add much suspense to the group's sense of desperation and even the film's numerous suicide scenes quickly dissolve into laughably silly scenarios after awhile.
After the box-office disappointment of "Lady in the Water," there's no denying that M. Night Shyamalan is under pressure to at least break even if he's to retain the strict creative control he so treasures. If "The Happening" is any indication of what it means to keep giving M. Night creative control, perhaps it's time for the Disney executives to come back on the scene.
While "The Happening" isn't nearly disastrous enough for Shyamalan's loyal fans to suddenly swear him off, it's undeniably disappointing enough that even the most fervent M. Night fan will be forced to consider the film one of his weakest efforts.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic