Let me start by saying I’m an M. Night Shyamalan fan. I love The Village and The Sixth Sense. Signs is one of my favorite movies of all time. Unfortunately, his last movie Lady in the Water wasn’t so great. It had an interesting premise. I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it like most people did. I had high hopes for The Happening. It was M. Night’s first foray into the R-rated territory. The TV spots and the red band trailer looked great. Sadly, I was disappointed yet again.
The story of The Happening is relatively simple. One quiet morning, people just start killing themselves. It starts in Central Park and spreads from there. Of course, everyone assumes it’s some kind of bioterrorism – chemical warfare, airborne toxins, etc.
Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and Julian (John Leguizamo) are high school teachers in Philadelphia that take their wife and their daughter, respectively, and head towards Julian’s mother’s house in the suburbs. Along their way, people hear more news about the attacks happening in other cities – Boston, Philadelphia, etc. Elliot knows they just need to survive through the peak of the attacks to survive the whole thing.
I have several problems with the movie. First of all, Mark Wahlberg is an excellent actor. I want to know what kind of motivation was given to him to make him seem like a high-pitched shell of himself. His character was weak, something I never thought I’d see Wahlberg play. I had expected him to be a badass – to take charge and plan how to survive. Instead, he’s panicky, whiney, and stiff. The same goes for Zooey Deschanel. She ruins one of the best lines in the entire movie with her cartoonish delivery of it. Alma, her character, says something to the effect of, “They’re all killing themselves. Just when you thought there couldn’t be anything else in the world more evil.” But she delivers it with all the feeling of a mannequin.
There’s also a lot of unnecessary stuff. For example, Alma has a semi-date with some guy and is feeling guilty about it. We focus on this for at least ten minutes of combined time. It doesn’t play into the story in any other way, but yet we constantly hear about this Joey guy (who, incidentally, is credited as being played by M. Night, even though we never see nor hear the guy). Also, the entire set of interactions with Mrs. Jones near the end of the movie seem to serve no real purpose.
In the end, I thought that the story was interesting. I’m not as disappointed with the source of “the happening” as everyone else seems to be. The plot wasn’t horrible, it just took too long. The acting was horrendous. The only really great part was the violence. Since this is a movie about people killing themselves, I figured we’d see the typical stuff – hangings, shooting themselves, etc. We do, but we also see people kill themselves in the most creative, and disturbing, ways. Ones that you might have noticed in the trailers were the girl stabbing herself in the neck with her hairpin and the guy who turns on the lawn mower and then lays down in front of it. The deaths are disturbing and violent and exactly what I was hoping for. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast and story couldn’t hold it up.
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