Written by Hombre Divertido
The Happening isn’t.
After the underappreciated and misunderstood Lady in the Water, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan attempts to return to the simple intensity of his successful Signs, but fails to include any of the elements that lead to said success.
In The Happening, something in the air is causing masses of seemingly normal people to commit suicide. Though the film is full of disturbing imagery that certainly would appeal to the fans of horror movies, it lacks too many other qualities of a good scary movie.
Primarily, no reason is given for us to care about the stars. In fact, exactly the opposite. Our lead characters, if anything, are annoying. Mark Wahlberg plays a high school science teacher who you want to believe early on will figure all this out and solve the problem, but that is not the case. Our hero leads his wife (a horribly miscast Zooey Deschanel) his best friend and fellow teacher (John Leguizamo), and the friends’ daughter (The under-utilized Ashlyn Sanchez) out of the city, cuz that is what you do in all of these movies, except Signs. Hello? M. Night? Signs was good, The Happening isn’t. Let’s learn from this.
The problem is that there is absolutely no character development in this film, and subsequently no attachment to the characters by the audience. Instead, a problem in the marriage of Wahlberg and Deschanel is contrived in an amazingly ridiculous fashion, which doesn’t matter because no one in the audience would ever believe the two of them to be married anyway. In the case of Leguizamo and his daughter; the wife and mother, whom we never meet, is unable to make the same train out of the city, and the uncertainty of her survival is somehow supposed to endear the characters to us.
At only eighty-nine minutes, a substantial amount of time dedicated to properly developing the characters could easily have been added to this film. What was the rush M. Night? Remember in Signs when you invested much of the runtime to introducing us to the family? Did you just feel that you gave us too much story in Lady in the Water, so you thought that you would go the other way in The Happening? Wrong turn.
Also lacking are the subtle “whistling past the graveyard” comedic elements so prevalent in Shyamalan's previous endeavors. The comedy in The Happening, like so many other aspects of this film, simply feels forced. The actors are not able to pull off the scenes involving the subtle comedy due to what appears to be a combination of a poor script and lack of skill.
The one shining star in this dull (M.) Night is Betty Buckley. She gives a nice albeit brief performance as the owner of the country house that serves as refuge for some of the survivors, and she is actually one of the scariest parts of the film. Why? Cuz we learn more about her and her motivation in the brief time she is on camera than all the other characters combined!
Recommendation: As this film bears some similarities to Signs, both versions of War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005), and the recent awful television production of The Andromeda Strain, you would be much better off spending your time and money on Signs, and the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. Note and appreciate the character development in both.