The best part of going to see The Happening was getting to watch the X-Files movie trailer — which is way more chilling on the big screen than it is on YouTube. Can't wait for that one! As for M. Night Shyamalan's latest spookfest, well, as Alec Baldwin's character Bob Barrenger remarks after a car crash in State and Main, "So. . . That happened."
The movie has been getting poor reviews, and even Shyamalan himself is calling it "the best B-movie you'll see," so I didn't go into the screening with the assumption that The Happening would be a masterpiece. And it's not that bad; it's no Jumper, say. It just gives us nothing whatsoever to care about. At all. It's empty and kinda silly and the acting is not good. There's a mystery to solve, which is interesting for a short time, but when it gets solved, the explanation for the mystery is pretty freaking lame. For more on this, read more.
The story begins with a series of New York City-set scenes in which people randomly stop what they're doing and slowly, deliberately find ways to kill themselves. The newscasters claim that the mass suicides are a result of a chemical toxin in the air, and soon the same thing starts happening in other parts of the northeast, always starting in parks and other green, leafy areas. The main characters we're following through this ordeal are Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and Elliott (Mark Wahlberg), currently experiencing some marital discord. Elliott and Alma escape Philadelphia along with Elliott's colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) and Julian's young daughter Jess. Then, the majority of the movie consists of watching the many creative ways people find to kill themselves (which is legitimately disturbing), and waiting for the main characters to either A) find a way to escape/outsmart/defy the toxin, or B) get killed by the toxin.
Parts of the movie are chilling like a slasher flick, that fun-scary way that innocently tingles the spine because we know it's just spooky entertainment. Overall, though, The Happening leaves this terrible, uneasy feeling because it's not done well enough to take very seriously, and yet, there's nothing "fun-scary" about suicide. It's just bleak and horrifying, and juxtaposed with such a flimsy story, the result is merely frustrating.
At the heart of the whole thing is Mark Wahlberg, who should probably not be trusted to carry a movie like this. His one facial expression of perplexity and concern and his but-I'm-so-baffled voice are like cartoon impressions of baffled, concerned people. Especially in scenes with John Leguizamo (who manages to imbue the film with a decent dose of reality), the differences between the two actors are like night and day. Namely, one is good in his role, and the other is not. I like Wahlberg in The Departed, I Heart Huckabees and of course in Boogie Nights, and maybe the problem lies in Shyamalan's script but whatever the reason, Wahlberg is a huge part of why I dislike this movie.
You know what M. Night Shyamalan work I really enjoyed (in addition to The Sixth Sense)? That commercial he made for American Express. The full version of that commercial is two minutes long. If you play that about 49 times, it's possible you'll feel more satisfied than you do after sitting through The Happening.
To see the trailer and more clips from The Happening, visit movies.iVillage.com.
Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox