D Vass’s review published on Letterboxd:
Just the other day one of my friends left a post on his Facebook profile wishing us Happy World Environment Day and something along the lines of “I like to think Nature always wins in the end”. So I thought to myself “Hmmmm… what’s a really silly movie I can review where Nature does kick humanity’s ass?” Needless to say, I didn’t have to think long about it.
Sometimes I feel really bad for ripping into M. Night Shyamalan. The guy has made really good movies in the past, and he’s currently hitting his second stride with The Visit and Split. But then there was a long period of time where his output was… unsatisfactory to say the least. And today, as a belated celebration of World Environment Day, we are gonna look at the silliest one of the bunch.
At this point, The Happening has acquired a legendary status as one of the best so-bad-they’re-good films, right up there with the likes of The Room, The Wicker Man remake, Snakes on a Plane and many others. I’ve seen and read reviews about it, but as is so often the case, it’s one thing to hear about it, it’s another thing to experience it for yourself. This movie is every bit as silly and ridiculous as its reputation indicates… which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
I have been pretty familiar with this movie for nearly 10 years. Whenever I went to the cinema in mid-to-late 2007 and even early 2008, there were always trailers for it. I didn’t know who Shyamalan was at the time, but the trailers and the posters for the movie looked really cool and foreboding, building it up as this really scary supernatural apocalyptic thriller. There was a lot of hype for it. Everyone felt that this was gonna be Shyamalan’s big comeback after the hiccups he had with The Village and especially with Lady in the Water. SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t turn out that way. The movie is so desperately trying to be taken seriously, the symbolism is about as subtle as a mallet to your private areas and the acting is beyond silly. My friend who I mentioned in the beginning has actually defended that latter one, stating that he views it as an homage to the acting in 50s B-movies. That’s actually a pretty good argument. Here’s the problem, though – I might be able to agree with him and give Shyamalan a pass on it if it was intentional. But like I said, the writing, the direction and especially the film’s message, which you’re constantly beaten over the head with, are so pretentious and trying so desperately to be taken seriously that the acting only contributes to the film’s unintentional hilarity. The dialogue is awful and none of the line deliveries feel natural, which is a common and well-earned criticism of Shyamalan’s works from the mid-to-late 2000s and the early 2010s. I have no idea if Shyamalan was intentionally going for this 50s B-movie style of acting, but if he was, he did a piss-poor job. Say what you will about George Lucas, but, whether you see it as a good thing or a bad thing, at the very least he does manage to emulate characteristics of 30s and 40s cinema in the Star Wars prequels.
Then there is the film’s pacing and structure, which are all over the place and the transitions are very jarring at times. The first two scenes showcase (supposedly) disturbing suicides and then, in the third scene, boom – suddenly and very abruptly we cat to Mark Wahlberg teaching a class. The abrupt transitions also apply to the dialogue scenes in the movie. For example, the Hot Dog Guy is talking to Wahlberg about something serious, and then, out of nowhere, he turns around and asks Zooey Deschanel “You like hot dogs, don’t you?”. It’s the type of thing that you can’t help but giggle at and go “Pfft, what?”
And going back to the acting, not only do the characters not sound even remotely human (seriously, what the hell kind of direction did Shyamalan give her here?!):
… but they’re not developed at all. I know nothing about Wahlberg and Deschanel’s characters. See, I don’t even remember their names. When your terrible acting is more memorable than whatever your personality is, you have a problem. And not only that, they don’t come across as particularly likable. Wahlberg never stops whining, even during the dramatic moments, and Deschanel is evidently cheating on him. Oh, and you wanna know how the trees’ killing spree in this movie is stopped? No, seriously, are you ready for this? If you’re not sitting down, please do so. The trees stop their killing spree because Wahlberg and Deschanel confess their love for each other. I swear, I am not making this up – the titular Happening is stopped by the power of love. That is single-handedly the dumbest aspect of the movie and, believe me, that is saying a lot. I might – MIGHT – have been able to buy some of that bullshit if Wahlberg and Deschanel had any chemistry, but they don’t – not even an ounce.
So, yeah, between all the pretentiousness, the horrendous dialogue and acting and the unintentional hilarity of all the deaths in this movie, to say that The Happening was a letdown and not even close to what audiences were expecting would be an understatement. But, in a strange way, all of these shortcomings also act as redeemable factors that give the movie its enjoyable silliness. What can I possibly say about Mark Wahlberg that everyone else hasn’t said already? Every time he opens his mouth, he’s a laugh riot. I cannot do justice to his performance because any word I use to describe it with will not be enough – it’s something you have to witness and experience for yourselves. We all know of the legendary “What, no” moment, but there’s also plenty of other great OTT moments, like his “Take an interest in science” speech, his pharmacy store confession to Deschanel, the song routine with which he tries to convince the rednecks that they’re normal (which is a sure-fire way to convince people in the complete opposite) – all of those are great, but by far my favorite moment is the clip I will show you now:
I got nothing to say – the scene speaks for itself. It’s so ridiculously acted, written and directed that it’s deserving of an Oscar. And the expression on Wahlberg’s face as he realizes the insanity of what he agreed to do is cherry on the sundae – it’s just priceless.
Which leads me to another positive of the movie – how quotable it is. Aside from Wahlberg, we also got the Hot Dog Guy as well as the Private that they come across. This guy… this guy. Apparently when he’s informed of something like dead bodies on the road, instead of with “Jesus Christ!”, his reaction is “Cheese and crackers!” Oh, and let’s not forget his way of fighting off a supposed hostile attack:
That’s a pretty good mantra you’ve got there, Private. But it’s no “I’m one with the Force and the Force is with me.”
And speaking of hostile attacks, Shyamalan actually tries to make the wind scary in this movie. Putting aside how stupid and absurd this is, he actually shoots the scenes where they try to outrun the wind (yes, that’s their actual strategy) like they’re running away from Godzilla or something. I gotta give you props, M. Night, actually trying to turn the wind into a scary monster – that’s mighty silly.
But for all the bad and stupidity in this movie, there is one legitimate good thing about it and his name is John Leguizamo. Out of all the characters (if you can even call them that, they’re that one-dimensional), he is the one who feels the most normal and is actually a pretty likable guy. Even his quirk of being obsessed with numbers and statistics comes into play and contributes to his likability, as he tries to calm a young woman down by distracting her with a math problem so she doesn’t have to watch the dozens of people who have hanged themselves. Not only that, but Leguizamo’s performance is also pretty good, all things considered. Out of all the actors, he’s the only one who’s legitimately trying to make the best out of the material he’s given and, truth be told, I’d say he succeeds. Regardless of the quality of his body of work (Super Mario Bros., Spawn, Molin Rogue and this), Leguizamo is a good actor and he always gives it his best.
In conclusion, yes, this was quite the experience. One you should all have. The Happening is one of those bad movies that you all need to watch – one of those films you have to see with your own eyes to believe. It fails in every aspect, but it does it in such a fascinating and entertaining way. Also, in regards to the question you’ve most likely had since the start of the review – yes, the Father’s Day reviews will officially start next time, just like I promised at the end of the Wonder Woman one. But, in my defense, The Happening also involves fatherhood, so there. Think of it as an honorable mention, a warm-up act before the main event.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen The Happening yet, you’re seriously missing out. Check it out as soon as you can. Come on, guys, take an interest in science.
Oh, and Happy Belated World Environment Day!