This isn’t so much a review of M. Night Shyamalan’s most recent effort — ‘effort’ is either sarcastic or ironic, take your pick — as it is a eulogy to the man himself. The Happening is the nail in a coffin with many, many nails trying to seal it shut. In a way, I must have a sixth sense, because I do see dead people. It’s you, M. Night Shyamalan. Well, your career, that is.
The Happening features a mysteeeerious airborne something that causes large groups of people to stop and kill themselves. The first sign is that it makes you talk in complete nonsense. Shyamalan’s script is brilliant in that you are on the edge of your seat the entire film, wondering if the babble their speaking is the first sign that they’re going to kill themselves, or if it’s just more of the atrocious dialogue that’s going to make me kill myself.
Wahlberg’s performance is by now notorious for how stilted it is, but, you know, the forever cute Zooey Deschanel is honestly just as horrible here, riding the line between witty/sexy and fucking stupid. Wahlberg’s science teacher is probably the most unevenly written character of all time, next to Zooey’s. And John Leguizamo bites it with his one-dimensional shtick as a math teacher. Maybe that would have been a good advertising campaign for this film: “THE HAPPENING – Now in 1-D!”
When did it happen, though? This new kid comes along, as we all know, and The Sixth Sense knocks it out of the park. He’s able to write character, insightful back story, and delicate relationships, all of which are moving and entertaining. And then, around Signs, he gets a douchebag haircut*, starts using wide-angle lenses for dramatic close-ups, and suddenly he’s incapable of writing any humor into his script that isn’t ham-fisted. This time, however, he completely fists himself with impeccably bizarre attempts — efforts — that have Wahlberg call himself a douchebag and the already infamous scene where he talks to a houseplant.
The sad part is that it’s obvious what he was trying to do. The guy’s consistent. He has these actors speaking throughout the film in this quiet, mannered way. Some directors understand acting and how to direct actors to achieve a mannered performance, but David Mamet he is not. He seems to be aping that austere, sublime quality from other films, but in the process he has completely ignored his characters and his actors.
You really have to see it for yourself. It’s audacious and relentless in how unthought out it is.
And in a way, an M. Night script is kind of like the airborne ailment in The Happening. It comes along, no one’s sure what it is. It makes his actors speak gobbledygook, producers walk/bend over backwards for him, and then they all kill themselves.
Their careers, that is.
*I’m not sure when he got this haircut, this is just speculation.