Most people would agree that M Night Shyamalan’s best movie was one of his earliest (The Sixth Sense), and that every movie since has been progressively worse. (We were partial to The Village, flaws and all.) Where exactly The Happening ranks on the scale is a matter of debate, but we don’t recommend you having it.
The movie begins with an idyllic tableau of Central Park: dog-walkers, joggers, bench-sitters, all blissfully unaware of the sinister breeze in the canopy of trees above them. Suddenly a bench-sitter removes her hair pin and stabs herself in the neck. Cut to a construction site, where four workers sharing a crude joke witness a fellow employee crash to the ground. Another body falls, then another, and soon it’s raining men. (The picture of these men stepping off the girders into a free fall, with its echoes of 9/11, is the creepiest scene in the movie.)
What’s going on here? The premise might have been intriguing on paper. And by moving into R-rated territory, Shyamalan gets a little extra juice out of some grisly deaths, with results ranging from effective (one death involves a lawnmower) to unintentionally comical (a zookeeper meandering into the lion’s den). But mostly this film is a stinker.
If you really need a lyrically apocalyptic fix, read The Road. Or, if you hate books, wait until November.
Both The Happening and the upcoming film version of The Road do beg the question: Why does the end of the world happen in Pennsylvania?
And memo to aspiring actors/actresses who want to appear in an upcoming Shyamalan movie: 1) Practice making your eyes look extremely big in the mirror (like Zooey).
2) Stand in place for long periods of time, gazing fearfully into the distance.
3) Even better, do this in large groups.
Congratulations! You’ve just been cast in his next film. But we won’t be watching it, unless you pay us.