I don't care what anyone says, The Happening is one of the greatest films ever made, a terrific send-up of apocalyptic horror films and a delightful spoof of the genre.
Oh, what's that...it WASN'T suppose to be a comedy? My bad.
When I think of The Happening, I don't think of this turd of a film, filled with its own self-importance and 'meaning'. Instead, I think of a jaunty little number by The Supremes. The Happening is a good song. The Happening is a disaster in every way imaginable, as if M. Night Shyamalan, someone who apparently doesn't value his career anymore, wanted to spend the money given him and make just a terrible, terrible film...even by his mediocre standards. The wunderkind who once was hailed as the next Steven Spielberg is now looking more and more like the next Ed Wood.
There are strange events going on in New England, particularly New York City. In Central Park, people suddenly freeze, look blankly, then commit horrific acts of suicide (they stab themselves with hairpins, throw themselves off buildings). Mass chaos ensues as the idea spreads that this is the work of 'terrorists' via some gas attack. Meanwhile, Philadelphia science teacher Elliot Moore (Marky Mark/Mark Walhberg), is explaining to his students the disappearance of bees when he hears of these 'attacks'. Sensing danger, he contacts his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and decide it is best to go to Harrisburg for safety.
Taking the train, they are met by their friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). There is much danger within and without the train. Alma might be having an affair, and Julian cannot reach his wife. Eventually we learn that there are more victims, for this 'attack' is spreading. As a result, the train is forced to stop almost in the middle of nowhere, forcing the quartet to attempt to move on. Julian decides (after a long, long, drawn-out farewell) to leave Jess with the Moores while he goes to attempt to rescue his wife. However, after being involved in a car accident, Julian does what the others do and kills himself.
The Moores and Jess eventually find others who are attempting to make sense of what is going on. They are met by among others Private Auster (Jeremy Strong) and a couple of kids, Josh and Jared (Spencer Breslin and Robert Bailey, Jr. respectively). Science teacher Elliot finally puts it all together: its the plants who are attacking humanity for reasons unknown. Somehow the plants are communicating with each other and launching a series of attacks that cause people to kill themselves. All the people have to do is stay ahead of the wind, Elliot Moore tells them.
Well, not everyone can 'stay ahead of the wind'. Even Elliot realizes the insanity of talking to a plant to reason with it. Jared and Josh are shot to death by paranoid people hiding in their homes, and the Moores and Jess finally take refuge with Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley), who gives new meaning to 'crazy old lady'. At the end, the Moores heal their marriage and basically 'adopt' Jess after surviving the horrors of the violent foliage, with the attack having been relegated to just New England; but beware: in Paris, people suddenly stop for no apparent reason...
| Mark Wahlberg's expression throughout.|
Get used to it.
Let's start with the performances. Mark Wahlberg has been hailed as a great actor, and an Oscar nomination for playing a version of himself in The Departed seems to have locked the deal. I have long argued that Marky Mark can't act, but is just a smarter version of Channing Tatum. Even if I granted that he could act, his performance was frightful: emotionalless, devoid of any sense, making his furrowed brow indicate all the range of a mannequin. Any person who shows no emotion when attempting to convince an audience that his character could seriously be attempting to reason with a potted plant is already doomed to failure. Of course, there is something to be said about Marky Mark playing the voice of logic and reason. Perhaps not since Charlton Heston played a Mexican in Touch of Evil or Mickey Rooney the buck-toothed Japanese photographer in Breakfast at Tiffany's has an actor been so wildly miscast as Wahlberg was playing a scientist.
The only difference is that both Heston and Rooney could act...
How smart could Science Teacher Elliot be if he didn't realize he was inside a model house?
Actually, there is not one good performance in The Happening. Deschanel in her first scene looks comically crazed, as if she is still debating whether she was suppose to take any of this seriously. In turns idiot and deranged, Deschanel should ask that all copies of this film be destroyed less they come back to haunt her New Girl career. Leguizamo attempted to out-underact Wahlberg with his slow, dull Julian. They both looked almost shell-shocked, as if wondering how they could get out of this fiasco. His long farewell scene was so long at one point I actually wrote, "Oh, Leguizamo just GO already!"
I hate going after a little girl, but Sanchez is simply the worst child actress of all time. There is nothing that excuses her lousy performance where even the most simple line readings were delivered in a bored, dead manner. I also hate going after old people, but Buckley's Mrs. Moore was just as idiotic. She (or Shyamalan) could never decide whether Mrs. Moore was human: she was a creepy old lady who appeared to be insane even before she met the killer pollen. She was comically crazy...and that seems to be a running theme throughout The Happening, how there were only two types of people occupying this world: either the comically crazy or the emotionally stunted.
The story itself doesn't want to take things seriously. There is a subplot of Alma and Elliot's marriage being on the rocks. If I understand it correctly, Elliot is jealous when Alma confesses she had dessert with another man. DESSERT? How dare she partake in pastries without her single-expression husband? It reminds me of a scene from an episode of The Golden Girls, where Rose has gone to a fancy restaurant that her cheapskate boyfriend Miles only visits to pick up day-old pastries. When she is discovered by Miles, Rose begs his forgiveness. "I didn't mean to eat behind your back," she says. Alma might just as well have said that. It would have made as much sense as the introduction of a story that was ultimately irrelevant to anything going on.
I also wondered why Julian had to constantly carry Jess around in his arms. At one point I actually wondered whether little Jess was capable of walking given Julian's insistence on carrying his ten-to-twelve year old girl all over the place.
Characters pop in and out without reason, everyone was directed to play this as hyper-serious as possible and never show any real sense of emotion. We're asked to believe nonsense (such as when after a frightful crash, Julian can walk out of it with hardly a scratch before taking glass and slitting his wrists). James Newton Howard's score tries too hard to be spooky when it only adds to the ridiculousness of the entire project.
There's taking things seriously, and then there's being serious to where it's unintentionally funny. The Happening goes for the latter, determined to make every wrong decision whenever it can. What can be said of someone who keeps making worse and worse films (The Village, The Happening, The Last Airbender, After Earth) and somehow is STILL being hired?
The film is badly-written with an inane plot. The film is badly-directed, with some shockingly inept performances from the entire cast bar none. The Happening ultimately might not be the worse film M. Night Shyamalan has made, but for someone once touted as 'the new Spielberg', The Happening proves that reports of Shyamalan's genius were greatly exaggerated.