Movie Review: The Happening
By Matthew Huntley
June 19, 2008
Anyone familiar with my reviews knows I've seen many bad movies, but The Happening is something special, a movie so unbearably bad it's practically indescribable. It single-handedly made for one of the most pointless experiences I've ever had at the movies and I cringe knowing how many people will see it just because they're curious about M. Night Shyamalan's latest "twist" ending. What that twist is, or whether or not there's even a twist to speak of, I will not say. But it doesn't really matter because it's not worth your time.
Some bad movies can be fun to review. Even the lowest of the low - Godzilla, Bad Boys II -allow us to take pleasure in criticizing them; they're sort of a way to vent our frustrations about over-the-top stupidity. But The Happening robs us of that. I walked away so bored and stupefied, so unaffected and numb, I felt cheated out of my time. Nothing "happens" during this movie that's even worth discussing. It's an unnecessary mess. It's not confusing or offensive, really, but bad down to its core ideas. My mind spins just trying to tell you how terrible it is, but it's not terrible in the traditional sense, which makes it even trickier. The Happening creates its own special category of bad, which, who knows, some might see as an asset.
The plot: a strange occurrence in the Northeastern part of the United States is causing groups of people to commit suicide. In Central Park, people suddenly stop moving and it appears as if time freezes. It's suggested that people's natural defense mechanisms are shutting down and they're inclined to destroy themselves. One woman stabs herself in the neck and construction workers start dropping like flies off a building. "God in Heaven," one many says.
In Philadelphia, Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is a science teacher who's telling his class about the recent disappearance of bees. There's a quote from Einstein on the board that reads, "If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years to live." Is there a connection between the decreasing bee population and the weird phenomenon taking place? Who's to say? As Elliot puts it, "There are forces at work beyond our understanding."
Elliot and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) decide to head south with their friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). They board a train in an attempt to outrun the supposed virus that's causing the population to kill itself. But the train stops unexpectedly in a remote Pennsylvania town because the conductor says they lost contact with...everyone.
All the passengers huddle into a small diner and anxiously watch the news waiting for an explanation. Is it a terrorist attack? An act of God? A prank by some high school kids? I wish I could violate the cardinal rule of film criticism and tell you, but just know it's not as intriguing as you think. Shyamalan misses an opportunity to capitalize on mankind's greatest fear: the uncertainty of knowing what to fear. The movie would have been much better off without any type of explanation and might have offered some insightful dialogue about human nature and humanity's inherent destructive forces, but we end up feeling and thinking nothing.