The first scene of The Happening is really good. The introduction, and what I assume was the initial idea that “inspired” M. Night Shyamalan, of the “Happening,” where people begin to spontaneously kill themselves, without reason, is quite chilling. It’s even presented in a very creepy and sometimes scary way, the most iconic image being that of people throwing themselves from the roofs of buildings.
Almost immediately after the introduction and set-up of this quite interesting concept, all the cracks in the movie begin to show. Shyamalan clearly didn’t know what to do with this idea, or maybe he had the concept fleshed out but didn’t realise that actually putting it to film would kill it. The Happening is a movie about people running from nothing!
The whole middle section of the film is an exercise in the ridiculous. Whatever is causing people to kill themselves is everywhere and anywhere, attacking seemingly at random or at least changing its motives and targets whenever it likes or when the situation in the film calls for it. This means we get a movie where people are traipsing along fields, running down deserted streets and then, without warning or reason, randomly killing themselves in bizarre ways.
This may sound interesting to some people, particularly the part about the suicides, but unfortunately, any redeeming features the story has is not presented well on-screen and poor writing and creative control of the story means we get the dull version of a potentially decent idea.
It’s not helped that the movie also features the worst performances from actually decent actors. Mark Wahlberg has never been worse than he is in this movie. This is when Wahlberg acted by saying every line like he was mildly surprised and out-of-breath. It’s noticeable in Boogie Nights, its absolutley awful in this movie. It’s also where we get the single worst reaction to a person shooting themselves ever – an almost sigh like “Oh No” which has now faded into movie infamy. If you haven’t seen it, find it on YouTube because it’s worth the look.
He isn’t the only one. Zooey Deschanel, who is very good in TV show New Girl and John Leguizamo, who has many decent performances to his credit, are also just as bad. Not as bad as Wahlberg, granted, but they are not putting in their best work here.
I can imagine it is difficult to actually put in a decent performance when the material is this bad though. The fact that Shyamalam doesn’t know what to do with his quite interesting concept is felt no more than in the ending. The movie relocates to a creepy house, with a strange old-lady. By this point, the film feels like it has given up making much sense because I’m not sure what the point of the finale of the movie is. I don’t think Shyamalan did either because the movie literally ends with little or no resolution.
We do get another attempt at the very promising opening to the movie, this time in a different location as the ending!
Overall, The Happening is a movie with a good idea done very badly. It’s dull, ridiculous, badly acted and goes absolutely nowhere. What could have been quite a chilling concept feels like a bad B-Movie, with a poor budget. It only got .5 above 1 because the beginning of the movie is actually done quite well.
Rating – 1.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)