Fox // 2008 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 15th, 2008
We've sensed it. We've seen the signs. Now it's happening.
Maybe you heard about this guy, M. Night Shyamalan? He's kind of a big deal, though his last couple of movies weren't considered the greatest examples of cinematic achievement. So now he's back with his first R-rated feature, a wild and woolly apocalyptic adventure. Is The Happening the jolt he needs to get him back on track?
No, of course not. It's preposterous from start to finish.
Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) stars as mild-mannered, high school science teacher Elliot Moore. While he's instructing his incredibly well-behaved and shockingly-science-happy class of inner city youth, he learns of some horrifying news: people in Central Park are killing themselves in exotic and gruesome ways.
He immediately grabs his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel, Elf), his best pal (John Leguizamo) and his pal's daughter, and heads for the first train out of NYC. Inexplicably, the train stops in Pennsylvania and our heroes are forced to depart and make their way across the middle of nowhere, while all around them a mysterious, airborne force is driving people to feed their arms to lions in the zoo and lie prone on the ground while a lawnmower chews them up. And I submit, by the time this ridiculous movie ends, you'll be hoping for your own lawnmower to come rolling through your living room.
I never go into a movie wanting to be subjected to stupidity but, despite the grim warnings from so many people regarding M. Night Shyamalan's latest, I fired this bad boy up with the express intention of enjoying myself. And I sorta did, but probably not the way Shyamlan envisioned. Any amusement that I was able to squeeze out of this moronic affair was done solely at the expense of everyone involved.
First up is Wahlberg, a guy I typically like a lot, but here he's just an idiot...of profound proportions. He makes consistently bad decisions (you couldn't wait like ten minutes before the wind stopped blowing to walk out and hug your stupid wife?) and tends to miss obvious solutions to his problems (hey, how about driving that nice new 4x4 pickup truck, instead of spending the night with that crazy woman?). Of course that's his character, Elliot, doing all those stupid things, but thanks to some legendarily bad acting from Wahlberg, I'm having trouble separating the two personas. Really, everything you've heard about his line delivery is true. It's as if Shyamalan shot a bunch of takes and used the absolute worst and most awkward to put in his film. Or maybe it was like that improv game where a director pauses an actor and has him perform the same scene in a different, outrageous fashion like "Now do it as a drunk sailor!" or "Now as monkey that speaks French!" but Shyamalan was shouting to Wahlberg "Now read your lines like you're a fifth-grader doing a play about dental hygiene!"
Just as painful is Deschanel -- another actor I enjoy -- who is reduced to merely big blue eyes and wispiness. Alma may or not be slightly mentally retarded -- heck, Elliot might be fighting a losing battle with a chromosome himself -- and Deschanel does little to steer men in any kind of direction. Apparently Elliot and Alma are in the middle of a rough patch of their marriage, but the cause of the tension is so inane -- and gives rise to a surreal monologue by Elliot about cough syrup -- that with all the talk about evolution and survival of the fittest in the film I'm dumbfounded that these two tools weren't the first to go.
Or maybe the plants simply saw no danger in their existence and actually considered their continued survival and eventual propagation a boon to their herbal mission of neutralizing the human race. Oh wait, I just gave away a whole lot, didn't I? But of course you knew that the villains in The Happening are ill-tempered plant life and their evil cohort, the wind. F -- -ing wind! So yeah, plants have decided to fight back against human beings for screwing up the planet and have started farting out neurotoxins that makes them kill themselves; a fact that somehow manages to escape the combined intellect of the world's greatest botanists, but doesn't elude two yokels that own a greenhouse in rural Pennsylvania.
As ludicrous as the acting and story are, the most crippling component of The Happening is how lethally boring it is. The big action scenes involving characters running away from wind or talking to each other through an underground pipe. The closest the film gets to actual suspense is the very beginning, when the construction workers fall from the roof. But this is immediately followed by Mark Wahlberg opening his mouth and the onset of the nonsensical story. By the time Elliot pleads with a plastic plant to let his loved one take a leak in peace, we're through the looking glass, and the only hope for fun comes in more moments like it -- bizarre setups designed to be deadly serious but only succeed in eliciting derisive laughter from the viewer. Fortunately -- or unfortunately, depending on your capacity for intellectual self-abuse -- there are plenty more to come.
In high definition, The Happening has its moments, but the 1.85:1 widescreen is lacking the sheen found in top-tier Blu-ray releases. When the camera zooms in up close and personal, the detailing is impressive -- Deschanel's eyes, Wahlberg's five o'clock shadow -- but the wider stuff, specifically the rolling fields of Pennsylvania, just don't sport the eye-pleasing clarity I expect. Ultimately, it's an uptick in visual fidelity over standard DVD, but relatively flat in comparison to the HD heavy-hitters. The DTS HD Master audio is the aural centerpiece and it's aggressive -- but then again you're talking mostly about surround sound wind. The occasional jump scene (Shyamalan still has a knack for those) is accompanied with a pounding shot of audio that reverbs nicely. It nearly snapped me out of my catatonic state.
Lots of extras, mainly of the fawning-over-the-movie kind: a Bonusvision track that throws in trivia, picture-in-picture interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage during feature playback (but you can't exit out of it on the fly while watching the film, like Universal's U-control feature); a batch of featurettes spotlighting the R-rated nature of the film (which, by the way, is far from "hard:"), shooting the train scenes, the wind attacks, the crazy old lady, a day in the life of M. Night Shyamalan, pre-visualization for the actually-pretty-cool Jeep crash sequence, and the general making-of; deleted scenes with an intro from Shyamalan; a gag reel; and a digital copy of the film.
Whatever you expect going into The Happening, it's way dumber. I think even Al Gore would agree with me on this one.
On the charge of First Degree Brain Gouging -- Guilty!
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Bonusview Picture-in-Picture
* Trivia Track
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Digital Copy
* Cinema Verdict Review - The Happening