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Happening, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky"
1 stars

In the opening scenes of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening,” thousands of people on the East Coast succumb to a mysterious force that first renders them immobile and unable to speak outside of some incoherent babbling and then drives them to commit violent suicide with the handiest implement available, be it gun, hair ornament or landscaping equipment. My guess is that this bizarre phenomenon will manifest itself in multiplexes all across the country this weekend once the end credits begin to roll. This is not just an ordinary run-of-the-mill bad movie--this is the kind of all-out catastrophe that will leave even the most cynical audiences dumbfounded not only by its sheer ineptitude but by M. Night Shyamalan’s evident belief that he has crafted some kind of modern horror classic. And yet, fear is perhaps the last emotion that this film will inspire (unless you are a News Corp stockholder)--viewers are more likely to look upon it with dropped-jaw amazement while muttering under their collective breath “You have got to be s------- me, Pyle!”

After the opening scenes of carnage in midtown Manhattan--in which construction workers fling themselves off of their buildings and a gun is passed from person to person so that they can blow their brains out--the film cuts to Pennsylvania, where hunky high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is trying to inspire his bored students to think outside the box by asking them to come up with theories as to the recent mysterious disappearances of honeybees. Before long, word of the madness that hit New York City gets out and everyone is sent home. Fellow teacher Julian(John Leguizamo) decides that it would be best to get out of town and invites Elliot and his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel) to take the train with him out to the country with him, his wife and his young daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) until things calm down. The trip starts off badly--Julian’s wife is stuck in Princeton and the minor troubles in Elliot and Alma’s marriage bubble to the surface--and then gets worse when word gets out that Philadelphia has suffered a similar attack. Before long, the train just stops in the small town of Filbert and everyone is told to disembark because the engineers have lost contact. “With whom?” “Everyone,” a response that seems to suggest that when the apocalypse does finally occur, it will mean that rapid-transit employees will be just as curt and unhelpful as they tend to be on an ordinary day.

Anyway, when word gets out that the incidents have begun spreading from major cities to smaller towns, everyone in Filbert decides to flee and Elliot, Alma and Jess (Julian has by now gone to Princeton in search of the missus) snag a ride with a friendly horticulturalist whose gentle hippie ways and wise words of wisdom about plants and their place in the universe are somewhat undercut by the fact that his nursery is apparently located a stone’s throw from Three Mile Island. While fleeing a new set of bodies, the group reaches a crossroads and meets people coming from the other three directions with similar tales of terror that suggest that whatever is happening may now be coming their way. Happily, the new influx of people means that when the new outbreak does kick in, there are enough people around to up the body count without forcing any harm to come to our heroes. As they continue to flee, they run into a few oddballs along the way--a couple of annoying tween boys (Spencer Breslin and Robert Bailey Jr.), a group of people shut up in a house who would rather shoot first and second and maybe then fire off a few questions and a reclusive old lady (Betty Brantley) who appears to be both off the grid and off her gourd--while desperately trying to figure out what it is that they are up against and how they can possibly survive it.

You will notice that I haven’t actually gotten around to mentioning who or what is causing all the death and mass hysteria and there are two very good reasons for that. One is obvious--to do so would be to essentially spoil the entire film (although it curiously spills the beans itself about halfway through) and if common sense should leave you long enough so that you consider buying a ticket for this to be a wise investment, it is probably best to go into it as fresh as possible. The other is even more obvious--if I were to tell you exactly who or what was behind it all or even if I merely hinted at it, I suspect that many of you would naturally assume that I was kidding around by making up something incredibly ridiculous and outlandish, either to throw you off the scent of what really occurs or as some kind of twisted private joke shared by no one else but me. And yet, I am afraid that not only does the film contain one of the most ridiculous premises that I can ever recall seeing in any kind of film, let alone one from the horror genre, it utilizes it in such an absurdly stiff and self-serious manner that nearly every single scene includes at least one moment that will inspire peals of derisive laughter from the increasingly incredulous audience. To be fair--and once again, I promise to be as vague as possible--the premise of the film is one that I can sort of imagine working in print as a short story in which you simply read the words and conjure up the images in your head. Even in screenplay form, I can see it working along those lines, which would explain why there was a bidding war for this particular script even though it came from the guy whose heat from the enormously popular and wildly overrated “The Sixth Sense” has dissipated in recent years thanks to the likes of “The Village” and “The Lady in the Water.” However, there are some terrors that simply don’t work when they are overtly depicted instead of simply being left to the imagination and one of the main problems with “The Happening” is that it is simply chock-full of them and each new one comes across as more helplessly ludicrous than the last in which the actors try and fail to look terrified at things that simply aren’t that terrifying to look at, unless you are one of those people who considers “Days of Heaven” to be a relentless excursion in gut-wrenching horror.

As with all of his films from “The Sixth Sense” on, Shyamalan has assembled a good cast of actors but never has he wasted them as pitifully as he has here--practically everyone goes through the film with slightly stunned expressions that seem to suggest that they either got a look at some early footage and realized that the entire enterprise was doomed or that they were all smacked in the skulls with ax handles just before the camera rolled. Wahlberg, who has proven himself to be a strong and sure actor in such films as “Boogie Nights,” “Three Kings” and “The Departed,” is wildly miscast as a mild-mannered science teacher struggling to understand what is going on. (The sequence in which he tries to formulate a scientific theory under pressure may be the single worst thing that he has ever done on screen.) As for Deschanel, she has inexplicably been given a nothing role that makes absolutely no use of the zingy personality that she has demonstrated over the years--she spends the vast majority of her time standing around with a wide-eyed stare that seems more influenced by the Stockholm Syndrome than Stanislavski. (The scene in which she finds herself confronting a relentlessly ringing phone may be the single worst thing that anyone has ever done on screen.) Then there is the singularly strange late-inning appearance by Betty Buckley as the recluse who comes across like the Grandmother of the Children of the Corn long before she goes nutty--this is a performance that is so inexplicable that it makes Fiona Shaw’s equally weirdo turn in “The Black Dahlia” seem staid by comparison. If I could own only one not-for-sale recording in this world featuring Buckley, it would be the original cast album for the ill-fated Broadway musical version of “Carrie” but if I could own two of them, I would want the second to be a recording of the story meeting in which Shyamalan explained the character to her.

Of course, these are all actors who have done fine work in the past and who will no doubt do fine work again in the future. As for Shyamalan, though, I am no longer certain that I can say the same about him. Although I wasn’t really a fan of “The Sixth Sense” by any means, I will admit that his best work in the past--such as the sadly underrated “Unbreakable” and all but the last fifteen minutes of “Signs”--demonstrated that he did have a flair for making reasonably gripping genre films in the Val Lewton tradition that relied more on building a mounting sense of tension and unease in audiences through suggestion than by grossing them out with gory special effects. Sadly, that tension was replaced with pretension in his disastrous follow-ups “The Village” and “The Lady in the Water” and with “The Happening,” you would need a finely tuned electron microscope to detect even the faintest traces of the filmmaker that he used to be. The writing is terrible throughout as everyone speaks in that archly formal style that was widely ridiculed when he deployed it in “The Village”--although I could fill up this entire space with examples of bad dialogue, I will only cite the moment in which a bunch of characters begin killing themselves and Deschanel implores Wahlberg to do something by proclaiming, in words that I daresay that no one would ever use in real life, “We can’t just stand here as uninvolved observers!” His direction is also wildly off-target as well--the film drags at a snail’s pace and outside of a couple of mildly arresting visuals early on, there is nothing particular suspenseful about anything that happens. Even the much-vaunted fact that “The Happening” is Shyamalan’s first R-rated film (a fact that is hardly as shocking as Disney releasing an R-rated film or John Waters scoring a PG with the original “Hairspray”) fails to yield any significant returns--those who appreciated his previous films for emphasizing mood over gore will probably find themselves put off by the violence on display here (he even goes so far as to violate one of the few taboos that still remain in films of this type ) while those expecting a bloodbath are going to be enraged to discover that for the most part, he has staged the gore in such a way so that the camera cuts away just as things are about to get messy. (By the way, if you were wondering whether Shyamalan decided to grace himself with yet another attention-grabbing-in-the-worst-way supporting turn, I will merely suggest that you stick around for the end credits and prepare to be delighted.)

Outside of the momentary pleasures to be derived from the occasionally interesting contributions from cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and composer James Newton Howard, “The Happening” is the kind of mind-boggling disaster that halts careers in their tracks while serving as the go-to title for any jokes for which the punch line requires the name of a mind-blowing movie disaster. (John Travolta must be so relieved that “Battlefield Earth” is finally going to get a rest.) If this was a one-off failure from Shyamalan, it could have been written off as the kind of catastrophe that virtually every filmmaker of merit winds up cranking out at least one time during their careers. However, coming on the heels of “The Village” and “The Lady and the Water” (and coming up on the losing end of the comparisons between them), it suggests that he really may be nothing more than a one-trick pony who fluked into one smash hit and has subsequently spent the rest of his career trying in vain to replicate its success. That said, “The Happening” is so inept in virtually every way that that there were times when I found myself seriously suspecting that he was trying to blow up his career once and for all in order to destroy any expectations abut his work and allow him to work on new and different things while being content in the knowledge that people weren’t prying about what he was up to. If that was indeed the case, then he certainly succeeded in his objectives because I can’t see how anyone could possibly want to follow his career as anything other than a cautionary example of what not to do after a fluke success after this mess.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17246&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/13/08 00:22:33
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User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell lame 1 stars
5/28/16 Ken This film is a big fat fail! 1 stars
8/14/14 Mario is the Best What a stupid movie! 1 stars
1/18/12 Marc DC Nothing HAPPENING... Doesn't even deserve 1 star 1 stars
1/17/12 Lenny Zane One star for eye candy of Zooey Deschanel. Plot is a descent into crass lunacy. 2 stars
8/15/11 chris Creepy, a little, but the hilarious acting kills it and so does the hilarious twist. 3 stars
9/20/10 art A WILD STORY!,A VERY WILD STORY!!!! 2 stars
3/28/10 Adam The dialogue was eye-gougingly bad...but I didn't hate it. 2 stars
10/19/09 2Cruzy Even on DVD...Pretty Crappy! Glad I didn't pay real money to see this POS... Fail! 1 stars
10/18/09 auzzie chickie first 30 secs r great but the rest... It's the wind! RUN! ppl running from nothing?..ok... 2 stars
8/12/09 Daniel Kelly Saw it last year and was not impressed. Can't imagine it gets better on a 2nd viewing 2 stars
7/06/09 art A FRIGHTENING FABLE! 4 stars
7/05/09 MP Bartley Woeful acting and dreadful in spots - but equally quite tense and effective in others. 3 stars
4/17/09 Dani O. Mark Wahlberg's performance? Two words: "Garbage Day!" Such a squander. 2 stars
1/26/09 Shaun Wallner Scary Film! 5 stars
12/21/08 FrankNFurter Wahlberg begging mercy from a houseplant is the funniest moment in American cinema. 1 stars
11/24/08 g. ho hum 2 stars
11/16/08 drdanny The reviewers are too kind. it's just awful. 1 stars
11/03/08 David A pretty well thought out movie, and i actually as well as most of my friends enjoyed it 4 stars
10/20/08 George (DUKE) Hokey Hokey this is garbage...my last M Night movie 1 stars
10/07/08 Jon G A fun movie 4 stars
9/13/08 Bruce Curb Cheap ending indeed(but I think premise really has nowhere to go),but ZooeyDesChanel is HOT 3 stars
9/12/08 Meredith Harshaw Suspenseful buildup, cheap ending. Premise more suited to pure horror than message flick. 3 stars
8/26/08 KTM Chick Have an absolute horror of summer breezes? A must see! 1 stars
7/05/08 Jayson Save your money and run. 2 stars
7/02/08 damalc Sobczynski could really use an editor 2 stars
6/28/08 ahnold Similar to Signs, but "so what"? Interesting interplay bn characters as usual. 5 stars
6/28/08 frank_reed Search YouTube for The Crappening: A Happening Parody 1 stars
6/26/08 ab Awful Movie 1 stars
6/26/08 Ole Man Bourbon "The Crappening" would be an honest title. Comically bad. 1 stars
6/22/08 L.A. Francois Bady storyline, poor script. Disappointing for this director. 2 stars
6/21/08 Erix This Shyamalan hatred is bordering on irrational. This was a good thriller. 4 stars
6/19/08 Oliver Klozov More 'Earth good, Man bad, must die' blather, makes Day After Tomorrow look smart 1 stars
6/18/08 Tom A sub-par Twlight Zone episode padded to 91 minutes. 2 stars
6/17/08 Gary Remember when his movies had cool endings? Even Wahlberg cant save this one 1 stars
6/17/08 Quigley A major misstep for M. Night. Let's hope he'll come back eventually. 3 stars
6/17/08 Joe So so So So Bad 1 stars
6/17/08 Anthony G Good, sad to see people become sheep and not form their own opinion. 4 stars
6/16/08 matt I thought it was an interesting social commentary... but the ending was just stupid 3 stars
6/15/08 Grace He's a fine director, but he really needs to stop writing his own scripts. 2 stars
6/15/08 pin I didn't even see this, but I know it sucks. 1 stars
6/15/08 Amy E Awesome premise... too bad it didn't have an awesome movie to go with it. 2 stars
6/15/08 ESC Did anyone else play 'spot the boom mic?' What was that about? 1 stars
6/15/08 Sean I wanted this movie to be good, but it sucked... 2 stars
6/15/08 bhavin This guy deserves one "STAN......""ONE TIGHT SLAP"...STANDING ovation in yr dreams syhamlan 1 stars
6/15/08 Kristy The acting was horrible and the end was so predictable. Not worth the time or $ 1 stars
6/15/08 GC NOTE to hollywood-yeah 6th sense was good, but please STOP letting this man make movies 1 stars
6/15/08 jessica i seriously walked out.... the most scripted acting I have ever seen. HORRIBLE!!!!! 1 stars
6/14/08 Jesse WORST movie I've seen in many years. 1 stars
6/14/08 Random meaningless meanderings 2 stars
6/13/08 James Eric M Night: Run yourself over with a lawnmower or get eaten by a lion please 1 stars
6/13/08 Alex Thorne Odd to say the least. a promising start quickly leads to lethargic meandering. strike 3?... 2 stars
6/13/08 Harish Nayar Quite bad! 2 stars
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  13-Jun-2008 (R)
  DVD: 07-Oct-2008


  DVD: 07-Oct-2008

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