Short version: If you're in the mood for an absurd film that alternates between boring and comedy, this is the movie for you.
I thought The Sixth Sense was awesome. I loved Unbreakable. I thought Signs was OK, except for the premise of aliens allergic to water invading a planet 2/3 covered by it. I didn't hate The Village, but I thought Lady in the Water was terrible.
Are you seeing a trend there? Well guess what, it hasn't been broken.
I don't know how reviews for M. Night Shyamalans's The Happening are going to roll, but this one isn't going to be pretty.
Going in, I was hopeful that this might actually turn out to be decent, despite what I had heard regarding the ultimate plot of the film. I even hoped that maybe that was a new twist by Shyamalan - misdirection outside the confines of the movie itself... but sadly this was not the case. It is indeed as absurd as I had feared.
The film opens rather abruptly, not really giving the audience any time to get to know anyone. We're in Central Park in New York City, watching a couple of attractive twenty-something women (presumably on a lunch break) sitting on a bench enjoying the day, chit-chatting about whatever. One of them hears what she thinks is a faint scream off in the distance, and asks her friend if she heard it. The friend who was normal a second earlier, starts to seem disoriented, having lost her place in the book she's reading, and begins repeating this. When the other woman looks up and sees everyone within view frozen in their tracks, and then they start to walk slowly backwards (which I thought was weird).
Her pal then pulls what looks like a long knitting needle out of her hair (it was holding her hair in a bun), and proceeds to do something rather unpleasant to herself with it. From there we cut across the city and see people committing suicide en masse. One thing I'll say I was impressed with: finally someone showed a realistic depiction of what someone who's fallen from a great height looks like when they hit the ground. It's not comfortable to look at (remember, this is Shyamalan's first R-rated film).
We soon meet mild mannered science teacher Elliot Moore, played by Mark Wahlberg. He's so low key he's likely to put his students to sleep, but is witty enough to coax an answer to a science question from the class "hunk." Soon the faculty is gathered to hear what's going on in NYC (they're in Philadelphia) and that school will be dismissed. Among the faculty is a math teacher played by John Leguizamo.
Elliot is having wife troubles and mistakenly confides in his pal who is not a master of subtlety when he comes face to face with her (the ever-ephemeral and doe-eyed Zooey Deschanel). Anyway, it seems that whatever hit NYC (it's assumed to be a terrorist attack) seems to be also affecting other cities, so they decide to get out of town by train.
Things rapidly get out of control as whatever is happening spreads to more and more cities and towns, eventually leaving our intrepid band (including the little girl in the image above) stranded in some nowhere town. How far will it spread and when will it end? No one knows.
The Happening is slow-moving, as M. Night's movies tend to be, but aside from one scene in an old house that actually gave me the creeps for a few moments, there is no payoff. At least none that won't leave you rolling your eyes and possibly laughing out loud. I know Wahlberg is a good actor - I've seen him deliver a good performance in other films, but here he's so washed out and hokey that he's hard to look at in some scenes.
At the most general level, one might cut the story concept some slack, but the devil is in the details here - ascribing sentience and the ability to communicate instantaneously to the source of this pandemic to a degree that is simply ludicrous. There was one scene in particular where I just had to laugh out loud... when they're trying to stay away from whatever it is that's causing people to kill themselves and Wahlberg says "We have to stay ahead of the wind!"
How in the hell does one "stay ahead of the wind," exactly?
It gets more ridiculous as it goes on, and when we get to the end and we hear one scientist's speculation on what happened all I could think was "Oh, PLEASE."
The opening credits state: Written/Produced/Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, so I guess the buck stops there. Personally, I think the guy is done unless he lowers his level of hubris and starts collaborating with others.
Unless you're anyone but the most rabid environmentalist, I just can't see folks thinking this is anything but a very silly movie.