Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Happening, Like Hot Dogs, Gets A Bad Rap, But Unlike Hot Dogs, It Totally Deserves That Bad Rap

After the double-whammy of the fun thrillers The Visit and Split, going back to watch M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening for the first time is akin to stumbling upon a photo of your friend being deeply intoxicated after that same friend has been sober for four years now. It's a glimpse into a darker era of a person's past, one that's still stuck in the back of your mind even as he cleans up his act and improves himself. Needless to say, The Happening is pretty much an awful bad terrible sinful rot of a motion picture, but it is an entertaining disaster in contrast to Shyamalan's later dismal efforts like The Last Airbender and After Earth which never went beyond being simply dismal.

The first scene of The Happening attempts to establish an ominous tone by way of showing normal people going about their business in Central Park....only for all of these individuals to stop suddenly and begin to kill themselves. Specifically, the script focuses on two women sitting on a park bench, with one woman stabbing herself in the neck with a pin in her hair. The awful CGI used to create this effect of the pin puncturing her skin was already gonna undercut any potential scares but her friends reaction seals the deal on this whole scene going awry since her pal doesn't scream or react with terror but just has this puzzled look on her face upon seeing her friend commit suicide.

If you think the unintentional comedy ceases after that, oh my God, we've barely begun, especially since we haven't gotten to Mark Wahlberg's inert performance yet. It feels like the only direction Shyamalan gave this guy while on-set is "Be frantic", because that's the only vague sensation I get out of whatever the hell Mark Wahlberg is doing here. When he's not frantic, Wahlberg basically looks like he's only a few minutes away from falling to sleep and that especially rings true with his hollow line deliveries. Going from his fantastic performance in The Departed just twenty-one months prior to this awful limp Sharknado level turn is equal parts heartbreaking and bamboozling.

Zooey Deschanel, stuck in yet another "girlfriend" role that she was unfairly relegated to in the last 2000's, has no chemistry with Wahlberg either, the two interact like timid church-mice, with meek soft-spoken dialogue exchanges and no hint of anger, love or anything that actual human beings go through. You do get to see plenty of both actors faces since M. Night Shyamalan developed quite the affinity for close-up shots with this movie. Thanks to the miracle of this absurd filmmaking choice, one can gaze upon the pores of Wahlberg's face as you try to make sense of the incoherent "horror movie" playing before you

As The Happening goes on and on, further explanations as to what the hell is going on only compound the moronic feel of the entire enterprise. Instead of leaving it open-ended for interpretation, The Happening chooses to have plants be the ones releasing airborne toxins that are making people kill themselves as a form of self-defense. The wind helps spread this toxin around to various human populations, so absolutely riveting moments where the camera follows wind brushing through the grass as an intense score plays over that specific visual ensue. Remind me again, is this supposed to be a horror movie? This entire film is like some kind of anti-horror movie.

At least The Happening has its fair share of unintentionally funny moments that keep it from being a slog. The level of acting is about on par with what you might see in your average SyFy original film and the super serious tone just makes all the nonsensical death scenes (like a zookeeper who feeds himself to lions) all the more humorous. The Happening is an absolute disaster as a movie, but there's no denying it's the kind of film that would be perfect fodder for that new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. If it's any comfort to those involved with this production, The Happening is still certainly better than the next two movies M. Night Shyamalan would direct.

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