Shyamalan fails to put in accustomed twist in 'The Happening'
by Missy Thompson
Jun 17, 2008 | 946 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) take a closer look at an encroaching and powerful threat in “The
Happening.”<br>-- photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) take a closer look at an encroaching and powerful threat in “The Happening.”
-- photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
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There is a major problem with all of M. Night Shyamalan's movies -- even "The Sixth Sense." Once you've seen the film once, it's no longer thrilling. Sure the second, or even third time the film is viewed you can pick up on key plot points but it loses that mysterious essence after viewing it initially.

When those points are revealed during the film -- or you know about them beforehand -- the film becomes less like a thriller and more like a comedy. This is the case in Shyamalan's newest film, "The Happening." Once you know what's going on, which is told fairly early on in the film, it almost seems like a waste to keep watching. If you've seen any of Shyamalan's previous work you know there is supposed to be a huge plot twist toward the end. If you're waiting for that twist in "The Happening," you'll be waiting for a long time, because it never comes.

"The Happening" is Shyamalan's first attempt at an R-rated film. There is no foul language or even suggestive scenes, it's the violence and mass suicides that pushed it from PG-13 to R. He should have taken out some of those scenes of blood and gore, replacing them with cut-away shots where you hear sounds but don't see any violence. That would have made more of an impact suggesting death rather than merely showing it.

The worst part about "The Happening" isn't Shyamalan's direction or script, it's the atrocious acting from Mark Wahlberg. I usually enjoy watching Wahlberg act even if he plays the same type of character in every movie. But after watching him in "The Happening," he needs to take a few acting lessons. It was as if he reverted back to being Marky Mark at the beginning of his career.

His co-star, Zooey Deschanel is an actress I've always liked. But, even she can't save this movie. Her acting isn't horrendous like Wahlberg's, she's just not given a deep enough character to fully explore in an hour and a half. Maybe the only direction Shyamalan gave to her was to open her pretty blue eyes as wide as she could and stare at the camera for a close up.

In "The Happening," strange events begin to occur in Central Park where hundreds of people become zombie-like before committing suicide. The strange phenomenon is initially believed to be caused by terrorists. The occurrences started happening in parks of major metropolitan areas before spreading out toward the suburbs and eventually rural areas.

Elliot Moore (Wahlberg), a Philadelphia high school science teacher, decides the best way to avoid the situation is to get out of the city and into the country. Julian (John Leguizamo), a fellow teacher, and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) accompany Elliot and his wife Alma (Deschanel) on a train to rural Pennsylvania. Elliot figures out that when people are in small groups, nothing happens to them. Elliot learns from a nursery plant owner (Frank Collison) that plants have the ability to release chemicals into the air. They can communicate with one another and that it might be the plants causing what's happening.

After Julian decides to go to Princeton and find his wife, he leaves Jess with Elliot and Alma who are having marital problems of their own. The three of them race toward those most rural area of southeastern Pennsylvania. They find an old farmhouse with no electricity and a creepy old woman named Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley). Elliot, Alma and Jess must hold together and wait for the occurrences to pass or for it to strike.

This movie is almost as boring as "Lady in the Water" which was released in 2006. I didn't mind "The Village" or "Signs" and really liked "Unbreakable," but none of these compare with "The Sixth Sense." After that film was released Shyamalan seemed to get a bad rap among critics. Maybe they felt he was overhyped or that he didn't live up to their expectations. He should try and branch out of the sci-fi/thriller/dramas he is accustomed to making because "The Happening" was simply awful.

missy@tooeletranscript.com

Grade: D+

Rated: R

Time: 91 minutes

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