In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film writer Rosie Fletcher asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is The Happening a half-decent movie?'
Yeah, yeah, Mark Wahlberg talks to a plant, they run away from the wind, etc, etc…
It’s all very funny and clever to hold up The Happening (2008) as the shameful paragon of bad filmmaking we’ve never forgiven M. Night Shyamalan for. What everyone seems to have missed is that it is actually half decent. Literally: half of it is decent. Specifically: the first half.
What an opener! Central Park, early morning: workers, joggers, dog-walkers mill around. Two women read books and chat on a bench. But suddenly something’s wrong. Everyone’s stopped. Speech is stalled. Then the blonde on the bench stabs herself in the neck with a hairpin. The horror escalates in tension, strangeness and shocks. Construction workers fall like acorns from scaffolding. A policeman turns his gun on himself. A cab driver picks up the weapon and does the same. A zookeeper sacrifices himself to some lions. The authorities think New York is under terrorist attack and soon comfortable city dwellers become frightened evacuees, traipsing across fields with strangers trying to reassure each other it’s all going to be fine when we strongly suspect it won’t.
This is eco-horror at its purest. A cautionary tale where a planet so beleaguered by its careless inhabitants sets off its own immune system to fight back in the harshest terms: by inducing such deep despair that humans are driven to suicide. Destroy the planet in the way we are doing, The Happening says, and life won’t be worth living.
It’s original (although it owes a nod to 1978 Ozploitationer Long Weekend ), it’s relevant, it’s challenging. It’s also political, scary and sad. Maybe Wahlberg’s acting is a bit off. But then isn’t this a film where everything is off? The world we know turning against us, the familiar made strange – certainly the late Roger Ebert saw the light, giving the film three stars (out of four) and praising Wahlberg and co-star Zooey Deschanel’s ‘quiet dignity’.
So the end is stupid. But since when was The Happening the only decent film with a dumb ending? Here are some other flawed ‘classics’ that no one bitches about.
1) Flight (he admits he was drunk, thereby rendering the whole middle section of the film pointless); 2) Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (half an hour of boring exposition and then a ridiculous karate move); 3) The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (how many endings do you need?!); 4) Loads of horror films including Switchblade Romance, The Last Exorcism, Jeepers Creepers, The Descent: Part 2, It, The Stand, Sunshine, Kill List, Identity, Hide And Seek, The Forgotten, Shelter, Knowing and some of Shyamalan’s other, less-maligned misses such as The Village and Lady In The Water.
No one’s saying The Happening is a masterpiece. It’s a creepy disaster movie with an awesome premise that buggers up its ending. Everyone hates it because they’re angry it’s not The Sixth Sense .
The Happening was not nominated for six Oscars; let that one go. The first half’s a four-star movie, the ending is a two – which gives us a solid three.
Even if they do run away from the wind.
Or is it just me?