Review: The Happening
Plot: High school science teacher, Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) try to escape an epidemic of mass suicides that seems to be caused by some kind of airborne toxin.
Review: All the bad buzz is true folks, M. Night Shamalayan’s latest; THE HAPPENING is a complete and utter disaster. While (in my opinion), it’s not quite as bad as THE VILLAGE (I never even bothered seeing LADY IN WATER), this film is not the return to form many Shamalayan fans were hoping for.
As I walked into the press screening earlier this week, I tried to go in with an open mind. Much has been written about the director’s ego, or the fact that he casts himself in major roles in his own films (for the record, he does not appear onscreen in THE HAPPENING), but in the end- this really doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. Spike Lee’s got a big ego, and he casts himself in lots of his own films- but that doesn’t mean his films aren’t good (most of them anyway). So what if Shamalayan`s ego has run a bit amuck- as long as he makes a good film, who cares?
Alas, THE HAPPENING is not a good film- not even close. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what's wrong with this film without going into spoiler territory- so my critique may seem a little thin. The so-called "McGuffin" of the film (basically, the source of the toxin that makes people commit suicide in spectacular ways) is so mind-bogglingly stupid, that it borders on contempt for the audience. To be fair- I think Shamalayan is trying to make a film in league with THE BIRDS- but I find the idea of a whole bunch of birds going insane much easier to swallow than what Shamalayan tries to put across here.
Despite the incredibly stupid plot- THE HAPPENING does have its good points. Shamalayan's got one hell of an eye for visual composition- and the film is absolutely gorgeous to looks at. The cinematography by Tak Fujomoto is simply stunning. THE HAPPENING is Shamalayan's first R-rated film, and he really goes for a hard R. There are some incredibly shocking scenes in the film (such as a scene where a man feeds himself to some lions at a zoo), but at the same time, the gore is never so over the top that it becomes a parody of itself.
The acting in the film is a bit of a mixed bag. I'm a big Mark Wahlberg fan, and while he's not the first person I'd cast as a high school science teacher- he does a great job in the role. As his on-screen wife- Zooey Deschanel is another story. For the record- I love Zooey Deschanel, but something went horribly wrong with her performance. Some of her line readings are really strange, and at times it seems like she walked out of fifties B-movie (although this may have been intentional, as the film is essentially an updated fifties B-movie). I also really hated Betty Buckley as the strange old lady they meet in the third act. She's WAAAAAAAAY over the top- and I didn't care by the faux-folksy lines they have her spout- which seemed unbelievably phony to me.
Overall- I find THE HAPPENING a difficult film to review. Although I did not like it at all- I must admit to being somewhat entertained by it (in a so bad its good kind of way) - but it's not at all the comeback Shamalayan fans were hoping for. I think he's got a good career ahead of him- as the guy remains just as talented as he was when he made THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE. Maybe next time Shamalayan can direct from a script written by someone other than himself- but until then- this HAPPENING ain't happenin'.