Theatrical Review: The Happening

Across the eastern seaboard a strange phenomena is occurring, people are becoming disoriented, stopping dead in their tracks and then have the overcoming urge to kill themselves. This first starts in large populated areas and then moves on to smaller areas of population. It’s first believed to be some sort of terrorist attack but soon we learn that it’s something beyond that. Now we follow high school science teach Elliot Moore and his wife Alma as they try to escape this strange happening…

… and that’s the premise to The Happening the newest movie from director M. Night Shyamalan who’s given us such great movies in the past as The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs and lesser efforts like The Village and The Lady In The Water.

Count The Happening as one of the lesser efforts, and hell, I count it as the worst movie I’ve seen this year thus far, and I thought it would take something to beat Jumper for that title.

Shyamalan’s film presents this immediate threat and yet as short a movie as this is (only 96 minutes) it hardly has any sort of real air of urgency to it and it’s not helped by the fact that it’s poorly cast and maybe features Shyamalan’s most ridiculous characters to date, Elliot and Alma seem more like they should’ve been in some other film (like something from Disney) as opposed to this.

Situations just seem to happen more at Shyamalan’s whim than seeming natural to any sort of story. And while Elliot Moore seems an amiable enough character, the situation that’s set up between him and Alma seems almost petty in these circumstances. It doesn’t help by the fact that Alma is just such a strange character on her own in the first place, and that’s certainly not helped by the fact that she’s played by Zooey Deschanel.

Mark Wahlberg is Elliot and I like Wahlberg, I do… I thought in Boogie Nights he was absolutely terrific and he’s certainly ben fine for me in other movies up to the point of delivering one killer performance in The Departed. But here, he’s just woefully miscast, not really seeming that convincing to me as a science teacher and having a line delivery that’s more sing-songy than anything else. but he’s not the worst of it, no that goes to Zooey (and I pronounce it as zoo-ee) Deschanel who’s just so damn odd in the first place that there’s really nothing to grasp onto here, and it makes you wonder what the hell did Elliot see in her in the first place. but as long as we’re on the subject of unconvincing casting, we can’t ignore John Leguizamo who’s cast as a math teacher friend of Elliot’s who basically delivers his lines in such a mealy-mouthed way, that it seems just like he’s reading the part of this math teacher rather than inhabiting it. And later in the film, Elliot and Alma come across an old woman played by Betty Buckley that literally just comes out of left field as she first seems like a light of salvation to the couple (and the young girl with them) but instead ends up as just… strange. There was one point where Elliot was wandering through her house and the tension builds up and all of sudden she just appears in a white nightgown with menace about her and the only words that came through my head were “and then there’s Maude.”

In the end, Shyamalan is trying to hit you with an environmental message, but it just sort of flounders around, oh some explanations are given thanks to televised reports, but again, they just seemed tacked in simply to move things along more than anything else. This floundering message combined with unconvincing characters and some really stilted dialogue right now results in the worst movie of the year… see it at your own risk…

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

14. June 2008 by Darren Goodhart
Categories: Text Reviews, Theatrical Review | Leave a comment

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