Last Saturday, Ch4 showed M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (2008), and I was delighted to discover that it really is as terrible as everyone says it is. Personally, I was never a big fan of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable… in both cases I guessed the “twist” about twenty minutes in, and then sat there bored out of my mind, waiting to see if I was right. The Happening was a very different kettle of fish though… mainly because I was laughing my head off and having a wonderful time.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure, The Happening is a “horror-thriller”, following the wacky adventures of a high school science teacher (played by Mark Wahlberg), who has to flee Philadelphia city along his wife, when the other residents of said city start committing simultaneous suicide for no adequately explainable reason! Actually, the explanation isn’t simply inadequate… it’s straight-up stoopit: The plants are deliberately, and with ample malice aforethought, releasing a toxin into the air which switches makes the human brain go screwy… and the only way to escape this deadly, invisible menace is to stay in small groups, and hope that the trees don’t notice you. I’ve no idea how anyone ever thought that shots of leaves rustling in the breeze could be as ominous and threatening as the birds gathering in The Birds. It’s just such an inherently calming and pleasant image, no matter how much scary music you slap over the top of it.
To give you a sense of what total hokum this movie is, the imminent threat is first revealed to our hero by the head of his school, using the immortal words: “There appears to be an event happening.” Yes. An event is happening. And that’s just a taster… the dialogue is uniformly terrible, the plotting is almost aggressively idiotic, and the “acting” is awful. But I still can’t quite decide if it was intentionally awful or not. At first, I was pretty sure that Zooey Deschanel was deliberately playing the part of Wahlberg’s wifey for laughs, but then she got all serious again once random extras started dying around her. At least Shyamalan was nice enough to give us plenty of close-ups of her, because staring into those big baby-blues took a lot of the pain away. Sigh. Whether it was on purpose or not, this still has to rank as one of Deschanel’s best comedies to date… I mean, I enjoyed her work in Failure to Launch (2006) a lot, but did that movie contain a scene where a grown man asks a potted-plant permission to use the house’s bathroom? No, it does not.
Oh, and the woman on the park bench who stabs herself with a hair-pin is played by none other than Alison Folland (of being adorable in To Die For fame). I wish she had a larger role, because I’ve always enjoyed her work… and she’s just as cute as ever!