The Happening is the latest offering by the inimitable M. Night Shymalan, a man I refer to as Mr Everything. Mr Everything pretty much does it all when it comes to his movies. He directs, writes, produces…I think he’s even the guy who runs down to the local cafe to bring the cast sandwiches for lunch.

Mr Everything is known for his creepy paranormal/supernatural tales of weirdness – and sometimes genius, in a Hitchcockian sort of way. His methods of character evaluation and nuanced storytelling are unlike anything else Hollywood has to offer. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes…not so good.

But Mr Everything has a bit of a trend to deal with right now. Since the seminal The Sixth Sense in 1999, Mr Everything’s movies have consistently declined in quality. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe I wouldn’t either. I’m a bit shady. But I’m also a man with a bit too much time on his hands, because I went and gathered the percentile ratings from Rotten Tomatoes of every Shymalan movie since and including The Sixth Sense, and compiled them into a graph.

After having compiled the graph I went to RT’s M. Night Shymalan page and realised they now have flash graphs on every cast/crew member in their database, and the three hours I spent on this thing were essentially superfluous. But, I digress.

PhotobucketAs you can see, Mr Everything is on a slippery dip and has been for a little while. With the exception of Signs, Mr Everything has been rated lower, and lower, and lower. RT is soon going to have to find a way to incorporate negative percentile ratings.

So, The Happening was a pretty good chance to change the trend eh? Well, if it hadn’t been a train wreck with a poor lead, a plot that stomped along fruitlessly and a founding theory that was largely unexplained, sure…it could have been gold.

Firstly, I have to harp on about Mark Wahlberg, who for all intents and purposes resembles a big soon-to-be-chopped-for-Christmas pine tree. Looks good (to the ladies, I guess), you’d love him in your lounge room with gifts (he’s rich, after all) and he’s 100% wooden. Mr Woodberg Wahlberg time and time again manages to either just scrape or fail to reach the bar of thespian mediocrity, his lack of acting chops failing to be made up for by whatever gifts he might have brought with him.

And the ‘Berg fails to deliver in The Happening. Playing a high school science teacher (a role for him, as bizarre as Big Bird running a poultry processing plant), he finds himself at the epicentre of a biological nightmare in which people are seemingly disregarding any notion of safety and just, well, killing themselves. To this calamity Mr Pine Wahlberg manages to give us the addled, half-shocked dismay of a man whose buddy went to get him a soda at a ball game and came back with Diet Coke instead of the real stuff. In other words, when the world’s coming to an end, Marky Mark looks like you just decreased his calorie count.

Zooey Deschanel is servicable as the insecure, slightly unbalanced and emotionally distant wife who may or may not be involved with another gentleman. John Leguizamo – who would have made a great choice as the lead – fist his role perfectly and seems happy to be in such a major movie. His math teacher was a well-constructed, slightly dippy creation to which all of us having attended high school can relate.

The three characters find themselves caught in this topical, biological maelstrom, but with little to do. Mr Everything finds many rich and disturbing ways to show people either dead or about to kill themselves (feel free to skip if the idea of a guy arranging a lawn mower to run over him is not your cup of tea), but fails to engage the plot, drive it into third gear, and take it home.

Part of this problem lies with the science behind the ‘event’, as it’s known. Call me a dummy, but I never really latched on to what is actually causing all this deviant, anti-OHSA behaviour. It’s something to do with the plants, releasing toxins, and the wind…but beyond that, I’m not really sure. it has obvious terrorism and environmental overtones which feel tacked on at best.

Actually, tacked on describes the plot quite well, being that it simply felt like one scene after another, lacking a coherence to really bind the movie together. It’s as though Mr Everything ran out of ideas and so decided to just add bits and pieces here and there, to make it all seem less dull. Best example: toward the end of the movie Wahlberg and co. find themselves trying to outrun the ‘event’ and happen upon an old lady out in the middle of nowhere whose creep factor is off the scale. I was going to put up a picture of her but she’s pretty bizarre. She’s also completely incidental to the plot, piquing my interest several times before ultimately killing herself. What was the point of her character?

This same lack of purpose is essentially what does the whole film in.  Case in point is the absolutely feeble ending.  I happen to be one of those people who really enjoy Shymalan’s endings; there’s usually a huge twist or some irony to dwell on when you’re finishing up your Coke and your popcorn has turned into a bag of hard little seeds.  But, not here, so much. It builds and builds and builds, rising and rising, and then completely deflates, leaving you with a ‘is that it?’ feeling. Even the ending has another tacked on ending very similar to that which closed 28 Weeks Later. If M. Night Shymalan is now stealing from B-grade thrillers then he has sunk very low indeed.

Look, it’s not terrible. If you’re looking for a few thrills and spooks, this might be the thing for you. But if your idea of a good movie starts with a solid plot and casting, decent acting and direction that doesn’t fall back on the macabre the sustain it, then you’re better off saving your dollars. And if you just have to have something with Marky Mark in it to entertain, then check out the comedy stylings of Mr Wahlberg, by clicking here.

Now that’s entertainment.

Das Critic writes for and doesn’t mind thrillers as long as Mark Wahlberg isn’t in them.

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