Do you remember that time when M. Night Shyamalan was a legitimate figure of influence in Hollywoodand not just another dick with a camera? You know: the Sixth Sense, Signs, Unbreakable, The Village? That was the time of my life when “to Shyamalan”, as in to create a twist ending, was as legitimate a verb in my vocabulary as “to Crying Game”. And then, well, The Happening…happened.
What ribs me so much about this film is that the film itself managed to Shyamalan me. A Shyamalan Shyamalaned me, and that is simply not a place I want to be in my life. The Happening somehow tricks you into watching it by having all the outward appearances of a decent horror movie. The camera shots are epic, the score is tense and sinister. It certainly captured the look, and sometimes the feel of the Shyamalan classics; and to that effect it shows clear signs of its creator thinking this equalled its predecessors, nay, was absolute genius.
TWIST ENDING. It’s not genius. It’s really, really god awful. It is a movie entirely written, directed, and acted by confused, soulless robots. Every character in this film is a Replicant, meaning almost every single line of dialogue has something off-puttingly inhuman about it. For example, someone mentions that “She’s going toNew Jersey, to the town ofPrinceton”. Who would ever need to specify “the town ofPrinceton”? Oh, to the TOWN ofPrinceton. I’m glad you said that because I had set my sat-nav to the CITY ofPrinceton,New Jersey.
There are so many infuriatingly odd moments like this. A screenwriter later lets a tween give marital advice: “Got kids. No. You got a problem?” You know, because these tweens are all about settling down early and having kids so his dick must be broke. The female lead tells a traumatised child: “we’re the same Jess, I don’t like to show my emotions either.” Again, no one ever says this, ever. And especially wouldn’t bring it up about three times in the length of a global crisis. I could keep going and eventually analyse every line of this movie, but I will spare you. I just want you to know the script is crap.
The actors do absolutely nothing to try and help the situation of the god-awful dialogue. I know because of The Fighter we all think of this “Mark Wahlberg” guy as a real proper actor man now, but his performance in The Happening is the performance a 40-year-old Marky Mark, still drug-addled and confused, would give. He reacts to everything with the mild annoyance of someone being pestered to do a survey on the street, combined with a slight air of not knowing where he is, what’s going on, or who he’s talking to. With Zooey Deschanel, on the other hand, it’s hard to tell whether she’s just incredibly aware of the shitstorm taking place around her and decided to have some fun with it, or rather she’s literally physically incapable of dropping the adorkable act.
Marky Mark, never lets us stop being embarrassed about the 90s.
The movie seems to really assume everyone watching it is as braindead as the people making it. The whole point of Shyamalan’s twist ending shtick is that so much of the movie falls back on its shock value. This is the stuff Facebook’s shocked face emoticon was invented for. The clues are always there, but hidden in a way that only becomes clear in retrospect. The Happening seems to do the opposite of this, the characters repeat where the Happenings are Happening and to whom over and over with a bludgeoning obviousness.
Bruce Willis was WHAAAAAAAAAT?
Getting down to it, the premise, although promising on paper, just doesn’t hold up on film. The threat of an unidentifiable toxin in the air is a genuinely smart idea for the environmental message genre, the old “take care of the planet otherwise it’ll murder you” deal. However, the logic Shyamalan applies is both too complex and too crass at the same time, meaning there’s too much time spent thinking out the logic of this film and where it falls down as opposed to being terrified. Ok, so there’s x number of people in x place, they had x for dinner, they’re wearing tennis shoes so this means? I forget now.
There’s this scene where they try and escape from the toxin by running away from the wind.
YOU CAN’T OUTRUN WIND. HOW ARE YOU OUTRUNNING WIND MARKY MARK?
I would almost recommend watching this film just to revel in the sheer awfulness of it. Just sit back and laugh at all the millions of dollars and months of people’s time that have all gone to waste.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Marky Mark is indecisive.
Take a Drink: every time they say the word “happening”.
Take a Drink: every time it happens.