M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening: much worse than expected

The Happening is awful. The writer and director of the science fiction and fantasy classics Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense, along with the enjoyable Signs and The Village, has hit rock bottom. With plot holes as wide as the Grand Canyon, acting that is disturbingly bad, miscast actors and scenes of supposed horror that are incredibly funny rather than disturbing, M. Night Shyamalan’s touch appears to have deserted him entirely.

A reviewer who read the original shooting script called it dreadful, but the actual movie is so much worse. After walking out of the cinema I felt I’d witnessed an excellent director artistically implode. What was he thinking? What was the studio thinking? Did anyone edit the script? Did anyone notice how bad the performances were and try to correct them?

The dialogue is clunky, obvious and at times ridiculous. The story’s premise that “the trees are out to get us”, causing everyone to commit suicide, never gets off the ground (or makes much sense either). Everyone keeps saying “it’s happening” every three minutes and there is so much plot exposition you wonder if the actors mistook the scene descriptions for dialogue.

Mark Walberg as a teacher just doesn’t work. His opening class room dialogue where he asks his students “where could the bees have possibility gone?” is so kooky and unbelievable I got the impression he was supposed to be playing a teacher on the edge of some type of nervous breakdown.

One of my favourite bad scenes is watching a zookeeper willingly get his arms ripped off by lions, offering one arm after the other. The weird suicide is shown on someone’s iPhone and looks like it had been lifted straight from a Monty Python sketch.

Another favourite bad moment happens after a train stops midway on its journey, stranding passengers in a café in a small country town. When someone improbably stands up and tells them they’re in a danger area, they all run out of the café and DRIVE OFF IN THEIR CARS! Where the hell did they get cars from? They were all on a train a few minutes ago.

When the movie’s stars Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel meet an army officer at an intersection, what follows is easily the worst bit of acting and dialogue I’ve witnessed in years. Without them asking him anything he tells them all about his military base and the bad things that have happened there. It’s as though you’re watching an amateur school play, rather than a movie with a multimillion dollar budget. And don’t get me started on the “plant man” who talks to his plants and loves hot dogs. What the hell was all that about?

Shyamalan tries valiantly to generate tension and fear by filming grass waving in the breeze and trees swaying, all to no discernible effect. He forgoes his customary twist ending, and never advances the script at all beyond the suicides, and the evil trees being out to get us. That’s the entire movie. Perhaps he thought having an environmental message meant he didn’t need anything else at all?

I’ve read positive reviews of this movie, but can only conclude that the reviewers have been paid large sums by the studio to promote it, or they were under the influence of alcohol or stronger drugs at the time.

M. Night Shyamalan has referred to it as “a fun B movie”, but I’d call it a pointless “F” movie. It fails completely on every level.

There is no twist, no subtly, and no point. I know fans of his previous work will want to go and see this movie, but please don’t waste your time and money. You’ll be just as disappointed as I was.

And before anyone tries to tell me that his movies have hidden messages, subtle and poignant allegories like The Lady in the Water, I’m not buying it (I didn’t for that movie either). This a train wreck of a movie, a hopeless, shambolic, badly constructed, badly acted mess.