I had planned to present this review in a Q/A format, with my wife doing the Q part, but it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. We made the attempt while we were at Denver International Airport, waiting for our flight to San Francisco. We passed the computer between the two of us, typing out our conversation about “The Happening.” Our flight had been delayed, so we were starting off in a less-than humorous mood. That’s not what doomed us though. We both had different ideas of what we wanted to write and they didn’t mesh well together. I was looking to be satirical, but her questions were more technical (did I mention she has a film degree?). While I would like to include some analysis of the technical side of films, it doesn’t play well in the Q/A format (at least not this time around). Not to mention that from a technical point of view, this film is nothing special.
When people find out a new M. Night Shyamalan movie is coming out, they all get really excited. Remember Pavlov’s dog, the one that was trained to do things when it heard a bell ring? Well, we are the dog, Shyamalan is ringing the bell, and the treat is the twist at the end of the movie. The twist is what we expect when we pay to see his movies. Well, do you ever wonder what happened when the dog came running and there was no treat? Probably nothing, but you’d like to think the second time it happened, the dog took a bite out of Pavlov’s leg. Why do I bring this up? “The Happening” represents the second movie of Shyamalan’s in a row that failed to deliver that twist. Yet, the audience has not revolted (saying something about our complacence as consumers).
It’s hard to decide what Shyamalan was trying to do here, but it wasn’t good. The film starts off in Central Park, with two women reading on a bench. One of them hears a scream, while the other has a confused look on her face. The first woman looks around and sees everyone standing perfectly still. She looks back at her companion, who slowly removes her hair spike and stabs herself in the neck. They cut away to a construction site, where a group of workers is chatting on a break. Suddenly, something crashes behind them and they see that it’s one of their coworkers. More crashes around them and we are treated to a scene of many people jumping from the roof.
This was an intriguing way to begin the movie. We are given a small bit of information and a taste of what the Happening actually is. It draws us in and our immediate reaction is to assume that the twist will divulge what is causing people to kill themselves. Standard Shyamalan formula. Unfortunately, the film goes downhill after that and delivers the weakest plot twist/revelation (if you want to call it a twist) of Shyamalan’s career, which we’ll get to in a moment.
The rest of the film is filled with people killing themselves while other people are fleeing the cities. Mark Wahlberg plays a science teacher who’s in the middle of a class when the Happening occurs. The school decides to send everyone home, with people eventually leaving the city altogether. He meets up with his wife and his friend’s family at the train station and together, they form the new Funky Bunch. Just kidding…but they do become the main focus of the film, running from town to town to field to house. The end. I’m not kidding here; this is the entire film. Some people shoot themselves, some people hang themselves, some people lay down in front of large lawnmowers, some people jump into lion cages, some people slit their wrists, some people crash their cars, etc. Sprinkled in there is Wahlberg’s crew running around, gradually losing people until his wife, his friend’s daughter, and he are the only ones left.
Before I give you the so-called twist, there are a couple of really stupid things I feel you need to know. That way, when I spoil the twist for you, you won’t give a crap. First, Mark Wahlberg speaks to everyone as if they are four years old. I don’t understand why he was directed/allowed to do this. It is very annoying and takes away from the tension in the scenes. Second, his wife looks like she is always on the verge of tears. This is understandable in some parts of the film, but is completely ridiculous in others. Third, almost right away, they assume that terrorists have released some kind of airborne toxin. Why do none of them don any kind of mask? We only see two little old ladies wearing gas masks while knitting in their house. These are the only two people that deserve to live. Fourth, the toxin seems to affect people at different speeds and we never find out if anyone is immune. This is portrayed at the start of the movie, when the woman on the bench watches her friend kill herself. Why wasn’t she affected? We don’t get an answer to this or if she eventually succumbs to it as well. Finally, the Happening is restricted to New England. Considering the cause of the toxin (wait for it), this makes the least sense of all. Is Shyamalan a Yankees fan or does he just hate New England?
The cause of the toxin is…you might want to sit down…the local plant life. I’ll repeat that; the local plant life. For some reason, the plants have decided humans need to go and spew some poison into the air. We don’t actually see the poison, but we know it’s there because the wind is blowing. Given this plot, I’d want to kill myself too. We learn this before the movie is even half over, so we spend the rest of the film simply wondering if Wahlberg is going to die. Since I’ve already spoiled the “twist,” I’m going to spoil that as well; he doesn’t die. Neither does his wife or the little girl. The Happening ends just before they decide to leave their sanctuaries, reasoning that if they are going to die, they want to die with each other. We see them happily living back in the city three months later, which is the dumbest part of the entire film. Would you go back to the place where the plants had just killed everyone? Maybe if you had the world’s largest weed whacker.
I did learn a couple of things though. One is that Shyamalan is completely coasting on reputation right now. Not one person has said anything good about “Lady in the Water” and I can’t imagine anyone will about “The Happening.” What’s sad is that he is destroying his reputation by making crappy films. Eventually, people are going to forget “I see dead people” and are going to wonder why he keeps making films. This also might have been his attempt at preaching about the dangers of global warming. I truly hope not because that’s not why we watch his movies.
The other is that Mark Wahlberg apparently worked in some ad campaign where he takes off his pants a lot. I learned this from the conversation with my wife, so our little airport session wasn’t a complete waste of time. I’ve got to run now; I hear a bell ringing.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back and see if you can get some back for “Lady in the Water.”