The Happening (2008)

(In theaters, June 2008) Sometimes, one has to step back and admit error. But after Lady In The Water and the mess that is The Happening, there is not shame in saying that M. Night Shyamalan has blown whatever credibility he had accumulated so far as a writer/director. As a writer, everything has been downhill since Unbreakable. As a director, it’s been a steady decline since The Village. With The Happening, Shyamalan takes his self-importance and applies it to a silly conceit, burdening a B-Movie with A-level pretentiousness. The result is hilarious, but not in a good way: There’s only so much you can do with ominous shots of wind blowing through trees: “Oh no! The trees are going to kill someone else!” Trite, dumb, predictable and empty, The Happening‘s plot isn’t nearly as flawed as its individual scenes: Characters never react like human beings (Watch Mark Whalberg do science!) and never take rational decisions –even granted that this is the point. Even my growing crush for Zooey Deschanel and her mesmerizing big blue eyes aren’t enough to hypnotize me into liking this film. The Happening is like an endurance contest between a power-mad director convinced of his brilliance and an audience looking for a good time. Instead, we get an unconvincing premise, awful staging (Those suicides? Funny rather than creepy) and insipid dialog voiced by incompetently-directed actors capable of far better. Intensely predictable (I defy you not to think “uh, oh, someone’s going to get shot!” before its happens) this is one of those movies that let you wonder how it ever got made without adult supervision. In almost any other hands, it might have been interesting (the idea of humans forced to separate in smaller and smaller groups, if followed rigorously, could have been narrative dynamite). But this is M. Night Shyalaman we’re talking about, someone who’s still coasting on long-gone fumes and wasted opportunities.

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