Director: M Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez
For a lot of people, The Happening was the final straw for Shyamalan when is first came out. His previous couple of films were harshly reviewed and audiences equally didn’t think much. But the concept of plants killing the humans on the planet was too much for some.
If you think about the plot objectively; a group of people trying to outrun plants that are releasing poison into the air that makes people suicidal, it feels almost like a 1950s B-movie. Shyamalan, though, doesn’t present The Happening as a B-movie. Here’s it’s presented with realism, and it takes itself very seriously. While there are funny moments, this is made as a thriller.
For the most part the film isn’t scary. It does have some unsettling moments, but this isn’t a film to watch to be scared. It’s tonally inconsistent and doesn’t blend that well, with some tense character driven moments, such as the people in the house who won’t let them come in and end up shooting out from the boarded-up windows. Contrasting the tension with some laugh out loud ridiculous moments, such as the characters running away from the wind. It can’t decide what it wants to be. There is a serious tone, but at its heart this is a B-movie and if it leant into that more, this wouldn’t have clashed with people so much when it first came out.
The last section, with the woman’s house in the middle of nowhere, is the scariest bit. It feels like a precursor for Shyamalan’s later film The Visit. She is completely unhinged and the performance from Betty Buckley is absolutely perfect. From the moment Mark Wahlberg meets her, you’ll be begging for them to just leave and find somewhere else to stay. Honestly the film could have been an extended version of this scene and it would have been a really good film.
Thankfully the main driving force of the film, the characters, are really well done. Deschanel and Wahlberg are both really good as the leads, carrying the emotional weight of the story. The side characters are also interesting. It’s the characters that make this film overcome its shortcomings and make it enjoyable to watch.
The Happening is not Shyamalan’s best film, not by a long stretch, but it is no where near as bad as people made it out to be when it was first released. With some great humour (not all of it intentional), great characters and a short run time this is a fine film. The idea is great and if the script had more direction, then this could have been a great film. It’s still enjoyable to watch as it is.