Writer: Cammy ZulkifliWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"Signs", "The Village", "Wicker Man".
Director M. Night Shyamalan reached proverbial status when he directed the elegantly thrilling "The Sixth Sense" back in 1999, and then created a befitting follow-up with "Unbreakable". However, somewhere in between he's lost his 'mojo' - dishing out disaster flicks like "The Village", "Signs" and worst of all, "Lady In The Water" (which caused him a major fall out with Disney). "The Happening" could very well be his comeback effort (I have to say I was quite excited to see it), to which he literally had to convince a lot of parties to finance, but in the end became a sad certainty to the downfall of his repertoire.
Shyamalan is well-known for his ability to weave twists and "a-ha" moments that leave us thinking "oh, I didn't think of that" - something "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable" carried gracefully - but going back to his string of flops, one could never be sure if the next will be able to cross the bar or even come close to it. Originally titled "The Green Effect", this film is based around a mysterious natural disaster that's sweeping across America. Mark Wahlberg plays a typical high-school science teacher named Elliot Moore (complete with a feigned enthusiasm when dealing with his students) who's in dire need of ironing out his relationship with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel).
The film begins by introducing the mysterious phenomenon, which hits Central Park in New York and later spreads to other areas. A seemingly ordinary day turns chilling when the busy New Yorkers stop dead in their tracks for a few moments before nonchalantly killing themselves in whatever way was convenient. There's also this weird thing where each time the 'plague' hits, one of the affected walks backwards 'rewind'-like before committing suicide.
As news of the strange happenings start to spread, civilians begin to flee the endangered areas, which we later find out is only confined to North-eastern America. Wahlberg's character Elliot flees with his wife and best friend Julian (John Leguizamo), who can't seem to let go of his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). While Wahlberg carried out the drama aspect (especially with Elliot's tipping marriage to Alma) quite well, he couldn't work around the grainy dialogue and, as a science teacher, seem to grasp all the answers as to why and how the incidents are happening. Of course, his theories are always annoyingly right. Deschanel is easy on the eyes but holds no underlying significance to how the story works, and Leguizamo is possibly the only one who can exert the quiet sense of emergency and silent panic attributed to not only surviving but to make sure his daughter is safe as well.
For some reason, Shyamalan decides to make easy disposal of the characters using the epidemic as an excuse. Characters are killed off before you know it. Elliot, Alma, Julian and Jess go on a little "War Of The Worlds" roadtrip to safety, coming across bumps along the way, which include a whole lot of queer and paranoid people. When Julian leaves his daughter with Elliot and Alma to go look for his wife, the couple hitch a ride with two nutjobs who have an uneasy liking for hotdogs, not to mention they are hippie enough to talk to their plants. True to a Shyamalan flick, every little information is a cog that engineers the story, so Elliot the science prophet quickly deduces that it's the plants that's causing the madness and comes up with a clever defence mechanism to avoid the airborne suicide streak.
Sadly, there's nothing really scary to look at. We all know the epidemic comes from nature, yet we don't get any scary oak trees with faces carved on its bark bursting through the streets of Philadelphia. Shyamalan instead executes the epidemic with strong gushes of wind running through the tree leaves and grasses to imply an impending 'attack'. It's human versus nature but there isn't a battle in sight. Humans simply scurry for their lives like chickens.
On their quest for survival, Elliot, Alma and Jess also come across a homicidal maniac on a deserted farm as well as a creepy old lady who, all of a sudden and for no particular reason, tells them something trivial about her house. And guess what? That bit of trivia is a fork for the next segment of the story. After a while, everything starts to feel a little too coincidental and scripted. Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, there are several instances when you can clearly see a boom mic peeping in from the top of the frame. This happens not in one, but three scenes. Someone slap your palm on your forehead, please.
This film is simply atrocious, considering Shyamalan has got a knack for good twists and surprises. There is a lot of room for improvement - the backbone of the story is quite interesting - but everything was left teetering. It isn't scary, thrilling or suspense-filled... frankly, it's not even explained well. Be forewarned, you may walk out of the cinema thinking "what the hell was that all about?"
By the way, there's a bit at the end that hints to a continuation of the phenomenon but if this is how the film would turn out, let's hope we don't see "The Happening 2". In this case, "The Happening" is really not that 'happening' at all.Cinema Online, 23 September 2008