The Happening is the latest from director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense). I’ve enjoyed most of his past work (including Lady in the Water). I wanted to see this without knowing too much about the film. So on Thursday afternoon I turned off my RSS feeder and pretty much avoided the Internet like a plague. Armed only with the knowledge of the previews, I watched The Happening Saturday afternoon.
The story follows Elliot and Alma Moore (played by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel), a couple living in Philadelphia, the setting of most of Shyamalan’s films. A catastrophe strikes in New York, causing large numbers of people to commit suicide. Fearing the growing threat, Elliot and Alma flee Philadelphia in an attempt to escape the attack.
The Happening has a peculiar balance between humor, seriousness, and the morbid. The film was advertised as M. Night Shyamalan’s first film with an R-rating (”for violent and disturbing images”), which I think ended up being a problem for the film. Many people have compared him to Alfred Hitchcock (”the master of suspense”), and rightly so. In previous films, Shyamalan has worked well in the PG-13-rating. He’s great at introducing suspense and startling the audience. Think of the sprinklers in Lady in the Water. With his latest film, however, the horror is just…there. There were suspensful moments that I liked (the trees, he tracking shot with the policeman and the cars, etc.), but a good deal of it seemed there just to justify the rating than advance the story.
The acting in the film didn’t do it for me, either. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel, two good actors I might add (Think The Depareted and All the Real Girls), just didn’t seem to fit. Should we blame the acting or the script? I don’t know. Coupled with that is the on-the-nose dialgue.
I liked the relationship between their characters. The change in Zooey’s character from the beginning to the end is especially intriging to me. I would have loved to see more development between their characters.
Now I loved the concept of the film. The idea behind the film. It’s so fantastic, but it’s also somewhat believable, which is a feat in itself. As far as the story is concerned, I also loved the way it ended. A really nice touch.
I guess it boils down to how much M. Night Shyamalan was trying to make The Happening feel like a classic “B” disaster flick and how much of it just didn’t work. Maybe I need to watch more movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing.