[Movie Review] The Happening

The HappeningStarring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo

Director: M Night Shyamalan

Genre: Sci-Fi

Cert: 15

Released: 2008

My only ambition for “The Happening”, having failed to sit through director M Night Shyamalan’s previous outings “The Village” and “Lady in the Water”, was to see the closing credits roll .  The decreasing level of entertainment derived from Shyamalan’s work (which started so well with “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”) has been utterly alarming.  But with a strong cast on board for “The Happening” and a mysterious premise (as is typical) my hopes were a little higher than in recent years.

Science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is teaching his classroom about “unexplained acts of nature” when news breaks that people in New York’s Central Park have started committing suicide in broad daylight.  As the unexplained phenomenon starts spreading across the city, Elliot, his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), fellow-teacher Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), board a train to Philadelphia only for it to stop permanently in the tiny town of Filbert because the conductor has lost contact with “everyone”.

The train passengers learn that the phenomenon has continued to spread across the north-east so everybody starts to flee.  Julian decides to get a lift to Princeton where his wife has headed so he leaves Jess with Elliot and Alma.  They meet a colourful couple (Frank Collison and Victoria Clark) who suspect that it is the plants, trees and bushes that are attacking man because they have the ability to do so (apparently).  It soon becomes clear that they are running out of places to go and after meeting several more groups of refugees they start a trek across the countryside on foot in an effort to escape this “act of nature”.

To offer any more plot synopsis would really be stretching my own patience.  The basic premise of this movie is that something unexplained is happening and the onus seems to be on the constantly-confused looking Mark Wahlberg to use his grounding in science to figure it out (it’s a good thing the main protagonist wasn’t a gym teacher or deli counter salesperson or else we’d have gotten nowhere).

I admire Shyamalan as a director but his writing has left a lot to be desired recently.  Just because he writes science-fiction doesn’t mean the film has to be devoid of logic and fact.  Mark Wahlberg is done over twice by being badly miscast and being given some absolutely ludicrous dialogue that is more about pushing the writer’s spiritual agenda than making a believable movie.  How many science teachers talk about the different “energy” colours that can be recorded by camera or “acts of nature” that we’ll never fully understand?   This flies completely in the face of what science is all about.

Then there’s the neuroticism of Alma, distant from Elliot and distracted by constant phone calls from someone called Joey.  The ensuing focus on her relationship with Elliot predictably becomes the tool that Shyamalan uses to drive home the central message.  It’s all very poorly acted and full of improbable scenes.

By the end (which somehow feels empty in spite of being well-crafted) your complete indifference for the central characters only amplify what a poor, unfocused mess this movie is.  Shyamalan made two cracking films (plus a slight nod of the cap to “Signs”) before strangling his visual ideas with ludicrously boring scripts.

How good was it to see Alan Ruck though?


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