M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most recognized names in the film industry. He has written and directed great works, such as Signs (2002), Split (2017) and the ever popular The Sixth Sense (1999), which is still listed as one of the scariest horror films to date while also providing one of Hollywood’s biggest and well-known twists. From this movie, Haley Joel Osment uttered the classic line, “I see dead people.” Almost twenty years later, I still see this quote on t-shirts. However, Shyamalan has delivered his fair share of flops, one being his 2008 release The Happening.
Mark Wahlberg stars as the lead, a Philadelphia science teacher named Elliot Moore. During what is seemingly a normal day at work, he is pulled aside, along with the rest of the faculty and staff, and is told about a possible bio-terrorist attack, which is somehow causing those infected to commit suicide. A fellow teacher named Julian (John Leguizamo) invites him along to Harrisburg to escape the deadly plague. Joining them is Elliot’s wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and Julian’s daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Worried about his wife, Julian separates from the group and heads to Princeton to find her, leaving Elliot alone to protect Alma and Jess from imminent danger.
The Happening begins with a blonde-haired woman reading a book next to her friend in Central Park. This entire scene is totally bizarre. Suddenly, she hears a distant scream and claims to see people clawing at themselves and bleeding. Everyone around her freezes except for her, then some begin to walk backwards. Her friend begins to mumble incoherently about what page she is on before stabbing herself in the neck. We then get a shot of the blonde woman, who doesn’t even seem to react to her friend’s seemingly random suicide, which leads me to one of the two biggest issues with The Happening: the poor acting.
Throughout the entirety of the movie, the acting is just plain bad, even amongst the more well-known stars. Characters either react strangely or not at all to certain events and occurrences. For example, in one scene, Elliot and Alma are in a greenhouse so that the couple they are with could pick up some supplies for the road. The man enters and says, rather quirkily, that they packed hot dogs for the road and asks if they like them. Deschanel’s Alma proceeds to mock him behind his back despite the man being kind enough to allow them to tag along and make sure they all had a snack for later.
This was just one instance when Deschanel was out of character and I quickly started to feel like she was miscast completely as our leading lady. She seemed to be going for more of a comedic attempt any time the scene called for seriousness, but her out-of-place tries weren’t even funny, so she failed at both solemnity and humor and instead made the entire scene feel completely strange. Deschanel is just one example. Each one of the four names mentioned in the above paragraph, as well as the casting choices for smaller roles, had their moments that gave off a sense of oddity throughout the entirely of the film.
On top of the acting, the writing by Shyamalan was absolutely wonky. There were several badly-timed and just plain arbitrary bits of dialogue frequently in The Happening. At one point, they’re running for their lives and then the next, Elliot is telling an irrelevant story about being unfaithful to Alma, which he disregards as false two seconds afterwards. Later on, they arrive at an elderly woman’s house, and for no reason, every word that comes out of her mouth is hateful, which makes you question why she allowed them to stay in the first place when she clearly didn’t want them to.I won’t spoil the conclusion despite the fact that Shyamalan does this halfway through the film anyway. Even after knowing how The Happening will end, its finish is unbelievable and anticlimactic. After everything is over, we’re given a somewhat “happy ending” that had no foreshadowing, meaning or reason whatsoever. It’s as if The Happening is a rough draft and Shyamalan had no time to go back and finalize his ideas.
Despite all of these things, I did have a good time watching this movie. If you don’t judge too hard, it’s a fun watch and it’s interesting to see how everything will unfold. In fact, the reason I gave this a go was because my sister told me that it was one of her favorite movies, which just goes to show that not everything should be scrutinized. Some films are horrible, like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, for example, yet I can watch that movie over and over and over again.