Strike three for Shyamalan is this absurd thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. Although not quite as laughable or embarrassing as the narcissistic Lady in the Water , The Happening fails just as miserably as a narrative and even more miserably with its wooden performances and tone deaf dialogue.
The writer-director-subgenius once again robs the grave of Rod Serling with another 30 minute Twilight Zone story played out in his characteristic s-l-o-w style to cross the feature length finish line. You can just imagine the Serling narration: "The time is the present. The place: the city of brotherly love. The cast of characters: humanity, which now faces judgement from the very environment they took for granted." For no apparent reason and without warning, people all over the world begin to spontaneously commit suicide. Airborne chemical terrorism is considered at first but this explanation soon gives way to the suggestion that man is faced with the wrath of plant life itself. But don't expect the ridiculous image of trees uprooting themselves and attacking people like some schlock '50s flick. Shyamalan makes the very uncinematic suggestion that nature is emitting its own chemical warfare, which plays on the minds of human beings. While someone like Spielberg or Hitchcock himself may have been able to give this invisible enemy a frightening presence, the characteristically monotone Shyamalan just shows continued shots of trees blowing in the wind as though this would be enough to create fear. It does not.
Just as he did in Signs, Shyamalan focuses his end of the world scenario on a handful of characters from whose limited point of view the story is presented. Mark Wahlberg pretends to be some guy named Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher. This is more than hard to swallow and it almost slips the movie into something abstract where we will just say that a man is a doctor because he's got a stethoscope in his ears. Wahlberg seems confused about the science he's teaching and the very situation itself since he doesn't have anything he can punch, seduce or shoot. John Leguizamo is a fellow teacher and he gives the only decent performance in the film. It also helps that he looks like someone who might be a teacher in a South Philadelphia high school. Zooey Deschanel is submarined from scene one by a script which gives her nothing to do and direction that commands her to do even less. In this case, less is definitely not more and there are times in The Happening where you want to scream for something, for anything to happen. Even for the trees to uproot themselves and sing "I'm a Mean Green Mother from Outer Space" or something.
By the time the movie gets to Betty Buckley's completely non-sequitur cameo, it becomes apparent that the story has been heading nowhere the whole time. There's some heavy handed preaching about our mistreatment of the environment including a classic bad movie moment when Elliot sincerely apologizes to a potted plant and then realizes that it's plastic. That, by the way, is the movie's only twist. After years of hearing that he's just a one trick pony, Shyamalan has thankfully dropped the twist formula for his last two movies. Unfortunately, this movie could've really used a twist.
M. Night's DVD's are always put together with the care and attention to detail of someone who thinks his work will survive for generations to come. The Happening is no different. While this is no "Special Director's Cut Approved Extended Edition", it's still packed with treats right in time for halloween.
There are 5 brief featurettes on the disc which do a decent job at presenting the magic behind Shyamalan's process. "The Hard Cut" deals with the challenges of the PG-13 director making his first R rated film and trying to find that perfect balance between presenting effective cinematic violence and going too far. "Visions of the Happening" is your standard behind the scenes promo piece while "A Day for Night" probes more personally into Shyamalan's daily work with the crew and actors. "I Hear you Whimpering" is a profile of actress Betty Buckley's work on the film, which features a strange moment with a grotesquely bloodied up Buckley joking around with an aloof Wahlberg, who is busy devouring a sandwich.
The last featurette is called "Elements of a Scene" and this one chronicles the complex planning and orchestration of one of the lamest car crash stunts ever recorded on film. Seriously, all the hard work seems absurd as the crash looks like it was achieved with undercranking just like the old Keystone Kops chase sequences in the silent days. How all the passengers in the car(including Brian O'Halloran - Dante from Clerks) are supposed to have perished in the accident is the real mystery in the film, as it looks like nothing more than your average fender bender.
FInally, there is a set of deleted scenes presented by the master of the macabre himself. He's very proud of his work here and his decision to cut these scenes. He's right about the scenes, they would not improve the film one bit. But of the film itself, well...