Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley, Ashlyn Sanchez
In the grand scheme of making movies, the process of constructing one can be broken down into two parts: creating the outline for what it could be and then actually making it. From one end to the other, plenty could get lost in translation with the alterations necessary to make it all work. This horrid conversion can be the only way to describe what makes The Happening the unmitigated disaster it proves to be because on paper it appears as a good idea but the execution is genuinely laughable.
Schoolteacher Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) hears of some strange potential toxin impacting different cities, which begins to make its way over to Philadelphia. Fleeing from the potential danger with his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and a girl they are overseeing they learn this attack making people kill themselves is not coming from terrorists, but rather the trees.
Look, I completely understand exactly what M. Night Shyamalan attempted to create here with The Happening and as a concept, it had the potential to be brilliant. The way we treat this planet and its resources tend to be quite shameful as we do not act as good stewards. Constantly cutting down trees just for the sake of profit and destroying everything we can for our own comfort will eventually catch up to us. Many see climate change as being the reckoning should we not change course drastically. Shyamalan brings this reckoning in the form of plant life eradicating us like a parasite by releasing something that makes humans kill themselves. Something horrifying seeing as greenery and plants represent growth in life within our context, but having it turned around to be the reason terrifying actions are occurring has genuine horror value. However, while all of it sounds good as a concept, the way it comes together completely fumbles it all in an unenjoyable and incompetent manner.
One of the criticisms Shyamalan receives across many of his films is the overly odd dialogue he writes and then how he directs his actors. On more than one occasion, he has enlisted strong actors only for them to look terrible saying his dialogue. It almost seems like a joke when you have Mark Wahlberg delivering lines as if he was told to say them in the most unconvincing way possible. Watching these wooden performances with no real sense of actual humanity takes away from anything this film seeks to accomplish as a horror flick as any momentum in building tension gets ruined by another horrible line delivery by these actors. What they say barely makes sense and how it comes out of their mouths somehow makes it worse.
Shyamalan essentially puts himself in a difficult position with making trees and grass the ultimate antagonist in this feature causing pain to people seeing as there’s no way to film it in a genuinely frightening manner. On several occasions, the camera pans over to some trees with their leaves rustling in the wind. With the context we receive, we know some terrible stuff is going to happen but these scenes are far too static and do not communicate anything really effective. I’m no director so I have no suggestion as to how he could have done it better, but it definitely does not work in effectively displaying the danger involved.
With the shots of grass flowing not providing any real sense of horror, the intended terrifying imagery was meant to be the way in which the people impacted by the toxins kill themselves. From throwing themselves off the edge of a building, letting a lion rip off their arm, and even letting a lawn however run them over, these scenes just look absolutely silly. Again, I’m not sure Shyamalan intends these moments to feel with the audience seeing as some of them have disturbing elements to them while others cannot be taken seriously by any stretch of the imagination. It makes for a film unsure of what tone it wants to take in order to tell its story. For the good of the film, Shyamalan should have picked one and ran with it because it did not need to do much in order to be better than what this final product displayed.
The less said about this film, the better seeing as it stands as a complete misfire to a comically sad degree. It hurts to think of this movie because I can clearly see what Shyamalan wanted to do and say with the message of this story but some terrible filmmaking really lets him down. Mentioning the actors just would not be worth the digital ink, as they are just so bad in this feature, and anyone who watches this feature will agree. Neither scary, campy, or even funny, The Happening fails in nearly every aspect of being a feature film.