Shyamalan's Happening Hits a Hitch
Probably the easiest ways to describe M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" is that it is his homage to Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds". The whole storyline feels reminiscent of "The Birds" with unexplained natural activity causing major problems and there is some Hitchcock style touches throughout. But to be frank "The Happening" is not as good as "The Birds" and M. Night Shyamalan is no Alfred Hitchcock. In fact where "The Happening" could have been a tense, clever, exciting thriller it ended up being all a little mundane pepped up by some action which in some places felt wrong.
It seems a normal day in New York, that is until something very strange happens and people start dying, worse than that they start killing themselves in very bizarre ways. With the government initially suspecting terrorist activity they evacuate the city but as this strange phenomena spreads it soon becomes apparent that these sudden 'events' are not terrorist activities but something natural. Caught in the middle of this is Elliot (Mark Wahlberg - We Own the Night), Alma (Zooey Deschanel - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and young Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) who find themselves in the middle of nowhere fighting to survive this mysterious 'event'.
Watching "The Happening" you can't but help spot the influences that helped M. Night Shyamalan to craft the story. On one hand you have a striking resemblance to "The Birds" but instead of birds behaving strangely you have plants behaving strangely causing mankind to kill themselves. Then on the other you have almost a zombie like elements with the storyline pepped up by action scenes where people suddenly kill themselves, be it falling like lemmings from a construction site or laying down in front of a lawnmower. What this ends up meaning is that whilst Shyamalan may have written the story it all feels very familiar almost dervative.
Because "The Happening" feels so familiar it also means that it doesn't really surprise, doesn't get you to the edge of your seats in eager anticipation and trepidation of what will happen next. It ends up being a case of disengaging your brain, sitting back and waiting for the next action scene when someone kills themselves rather than becoming engaged by an exciting story.
As for the action scenes well some are better than others with the men falling from the construction site being one of the better ones. But it feels like half way through Shyamalan gave up on trying to make "The Happening" a thriller resorting to throwing action at us and it is at this point it gets messy. Scenes which are meant to make us cringe, such as the man being run over by a lawnmower, are in fact comically cheesy and not in the least bit scary which I am sure was the intention.
Maybe being comical was intentional because there is also a thread of dark humour running throughout "The Happening". But like the action the humour is a bit hit and miss with some scenes being quite amusing whilst others completely corny. Most of the issues with the dark humour is from the dialogue which like the movie seems to drift off from being reasonable to being poor.
And then in a very Hitchcock style there is a sense of ambiguity to "The Happening". It is suggested that this 'event' as it is painfully referred to maybe down to plants but do we get a full explanation, do we heck and do we get closure, nope we don't. What it appears is Shyamalan wants to be mysterious in a Hitchcock way but he just can't pull it off.
All of this means that "The Happening" seems to be a confused movie as it tries to mix Hitchcock with zombie movies, brutal action with dark comedy and this leads to major issues with the characters. Now I have no idea whether the various characters were meant to be comical or not but it just doesn't feel right. Mark Wahlberg comes across as terribly weak as Elliot Moore and a bit too soft but then if the character was meant to be comical it sort of works. Zooey Deschanel as Alma Moore feels just as wrong and a bit too kooky but yet again maybe that was Shyamalan's intentions because all of the characters are a little bit quirky. But then it doesn't seem to fit in with the movie or at least not the first half of the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "The Happening" ends up a very confused movie which comes across as not being sure of what it wants to be. I am sure Shyamalan was trying to make a thriller which would scare you with some stunning action but also make you laugh through dark humour, a homage to Hitchcock. But the blend doesn't work and "The Happening" ends up going from a thriller into something bordering on the corny. Although saying that, whilst not a great movie it will entertain, just probably for the wrong reasons rather than the right ones.