M. Night Shyamalan is one of the few filmmakers whose films have gotten consistently worse throughout his career.
The Sixth Sense, his feature film debut, was a phenomenon. It scared and it shocked. It was genuine, original and practically demanded repeat viewings. His follow-up, Unbreakable, was equally good but suffered from a flat, half-hearted ending. Signs, a box office smash, had its creepy good moments, but its convenient, lackluster ending frustrated viewers. Now we take a turn for the worst. The Village was tired, boring, predictable and way to into itself; Shyamalan’s ego began to get the best of him. Similar with Lady in the Water, the what-the-hell-are-they-talking-about, PG-13 rated children’s mystery.
Now we have The Happening, by far Shyamalan’s most bizarre, egotistical feature. Its interesting premise is shot to shit by overacting and (again) convenient sequences. The beginning begs to lead to a promising feature: on a crowded Central Park morning, people suddenly became disoriented, lose speech, then kill themselves. This happens again at a construction site (our first hint that this film is not going to deliver, due to untactful echoes of 9/11). But then we cut to a science classroom in Philadelphia, and all is lost.
Mark Wahlberg, a tremendous actor, is simply terrible in this film. His voice never leaves that high-pitched, perplexed state, his face has only one emotion no matter the scene and his believability is completely absent. My only guess, given his stellar performances in Boogie Nights, Three Kings and The Departed, is that Wahlberg was directed poorly. I believe Shyamalan told him to act like a lost, confused little puppy throughout the entire shoot.
Similar to virtually everyone else in the cast. Talented Zooey Deschanel looks like she doesn’t know where she is, John Leguizamo (why cast him in the first place?) isn’t convincing in the slightest, and Ashlyn Sanchez (the girl with the invisible cloak in Crash) is nearly mute.
With every Shyamalan film, you have to be willing to accept what he is giving you. You have to believe that a kid can see dead people, or that a man is invincible, or aliens exists and so on. But The Happening has so many plot holes, that you won’t even bother to play along.
Shyamalan ditched his trademark twist-ending after The Village flopped, but that is no cause for the characters figuring out the entire film 25 minutes into it, offering a lame explanation that’s just thrown out there and never contested.
With a film this preposterous, you’ll think you’re watching an old B-movie or a campy Twilight Zone episode (which probably would’ve worked if Shyamalan played his cards right). But The Happening wants you to take it very seriously. But believe me, you won’t care less. D-