I re-watched Lady in the Water the other day, just to make sure that it was as ridiculous as I remembered. I was vindicated, but also filled with hope for his follow-up. Surely it was a single slip up, and not an indication that he’d lost his way completely?
The Happening is definitely better than Shyamalan’s previous outing, though still less effective than his other films. After the convoluted Lady in the Water, it was nice to return to a much simpler story. The Happening posits a classic science fiction ‘what if’ scenario, and is in fact even more Hitchcockian than Signs. Mark Wahlberg plays the standard Shyamalan hero – softly spoken, unassuming, but strong of character. When an invisible threat leaves the populations of several major cities dead, Elliot (Wahlberg) and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) pack up and take the next train out of the town, together with their friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Strangely enough, Deschanel’s performance feels a little stilted. This is the first time I haven’t been impressed with her, which makes me think that it’s the screenplay or the direction that’s at fault. Leguizamo fares better, and whilst Wahlberg is effective, he’s not as memorable as Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense or Mel Gibson in Signs.
Frustratingly, it’s easy to see how The Happening could have been perfect. I’m probably making excuses for the man, but I get the feeling that the powers that be had him on a tight leash this time around, which would explain several expository snippets of dialogue which feel like they were added during post-production. The film would have been better off without such assertions – it’s not in the least bit complicated anyway.
The Happening is much more of a straight horror film than his other works, and he hasn’t been this graphic or gruesome since The Sixth Sense. In this way it’s easy to see how it could have been well received by a wider audience than his more recent films. Shyamalan’s visual style is still present, though not as apparent as usual. There are a several long tracking shots that comprise some of the film’s best moments, proving that you can scare people without resorting to hyperactive editing.
Overall, it seems clear that this film would have been better if Shyamalan had perhaps taken on another writer. Since he always produces and directs anyway, he wouldn’t really have been relinquishing too much control. The film needed just a little bit more – some better dialogue and exposition excision. As it stands, The Happening is a good horror/sci-fi flick, but lacks the power of his best work.Rating: