Any great mystery, espionage or horror movie lives or dies on its writer and director combining to provide suspense – the ominous shadow here, the piercing music sting there – while creating characters we can relate to and placing them in situations that leave them more and more unable to cope, or adapt, until some revelation… some idea… gives them the wherewithal to overcome their plight.
For about two-thirds of The Happening, writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan does exactly that. Beginning with the first intimations of something wrong beginning to happen in New York city’s Central Park, Shyamalan provides an almost Hitchcockian build of suspense as people begin killing themselves in numbers that suggest, at first, a terrorist attack.
The film follows a troubled couple, Elliot [Mark Wahlberg] and Alma [Zooey Deschanel] and the young daughter of a friend, Jess [Ashlynn Sanchez] – giving us a chance to see her with her father [John Leguizamo] before bad things separate them. As the behavioural problem mounts, and theories about the problem evolve, it seems certain that humanity is about to be removed from the face of the planet.
Even allowing for Shyamalan’s tendency to write dialogue that no one would ever really say, The Happening builds nicely. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography and James Newton Howard’s score do work well to keep the audience on the edge of its seat. The problem arises when the third act has absolutely no surprises and the development of the attacks evolves precisely as it seemed it would – until…
Normally, that would be a good thing, but here, Shyamalan telegraphs the way the film plays in a rather clunky manner, so that the impact of some events are nearly nullified. Also, as a direct result of information imparted earlier, the film’s brief tag is also telegraphed, leaving us saying, “So?” On the other hand, The Happening is a huge improvement over Lady in the Water, so maybe Shyamalan’s career isn’t over just yet.
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