Why The Happening Almost Killed M. Night Shyamalan’s Career

So, The Happening…happened. Here’s the thing, M. Night Shyamalan is an interesting director. There’s no doubt that the guy is extremely talented. There’s no such thing as a filmmaker accidentally making a great movie, and Shymalan has at least four in his catalog. However, the veteran filmmaker was making a string of clunkers that effectively slowed down his career. It started with Lady in the Water. Then The Last Airbender, and now, The Happening. When you watch the trailers, the film genuinely looks promising. A mass string of suicides is taking place across the country and the terrifying phenomenon is unknown. However, the execution of the film turns out horrendous. It wasn’t just because of the disappointing reveal that pissed-off plants are exacting their revenge, it was the surprise over how incompetent the overall feature came across. Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender were bad, but The Happening almost killed off Shyamalan’s career, with After Earth kicking it down further. Here’s plenty of reasons The Happening fails on so many levels.

One of the most notable fails is the dialogue. M. Night Shyamalan isn’t exactly known for great dialogue, but that issue was amplified in The Happening. The main issue is that the characters talk like robots still trying to understand Earth speech patterns. Take the Nursery Owner saying, “We’re packing hot dogs for the road. You know, hot dogs get a bad rep. They got a cool shape, they got protein.” Exactly, what is M. Night Shyamalan trying to say here? This statement has nothing to do with the overall plot, nor is it a character-building moment. It’s just mindless drivel. Perhaps I live on the moon and I haven’t been paying attention to the bad rep that hot dogs have been getting. The confusing part is that this statement isn’t meant for comedy. I know that M. Night Shyamalan later stated that he was going for a cheesy B-movie vibe, but even under that context this dialogue and many others are just head-scratchers. The movie never feels like a cheesy B-movie. It’s treated in a serious manner and despite how laughably bad the story is, it never feels campy or over-the-top enough for that direction.

A lot of times people say what they’re feeling as well. For example, Alma reveals that she technically cheated on Elliot, “Okay, I was going to tell you, okay? There was this guy. His name is Joey; he’s at work. We went out and we had dessert; I went and had dessert with him when I told you I worked late and I didn’t work late and I’m feeling really guilty in case we’re gonna die. I just wanted you to know that.” First, let’s forget that a robot clearly penned this scene. This section of dialogue is so bad because A) Shyamalan clearly doesn’t trust that audiences will understand Alma’s guilt over meeting another guy through actions, so instead, he treats us like idiots, haphazardly having Zooey Deschanel explain her feelings in the most unnatural manner. I don’t need to even explain why the infamous plant talking scene is hilariously bad. At times, it feels that Shyamalan doesn’t even know what type of movie he’s trying to make. Sometimes it’s a suspenseful thriller. Sometimes its a grotesque horror movie. Other times it’s a comedy. None of it gels together particularly well. I don’t understand what kind of suspense Shyamalan was trying to get from Mark Wahlberg and the gang trying to outrun wind (this is impossible, by the way), but it comes across as silly and dumb instead. It doesn’t help that the acting is terrible across the board, thus making the dialogue stick out like a sore thumb.

I don’t know what Mark Wahlberg was going for here, but his performance is all over the place. His chemistry with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) is barely existent, and it doesn’t help that the two are at odds with one another. While a couple going through issues in the midst of a global disaster can be very compelling, Alma and Elliot mostly come across as children and it’s never believable that they were actually in love in the first place. John Leguizamo‘s Julian is playing the smart math guy, but he comes across as annoying than a genius. Had the script been better than the acting talents would be sorely to blame here, but it’s clearly confusing direction by Shyamalan that muddles a cast of talented actors. The premise of pissed-off plants just doesn’t work. The scenes that are supposed to be packed with tension when mother nature makes its appearance comes off as laughably bad. Once the culprit behind the mass suicides is revealed then the premise is no longer intriguing or compelling. Had The Happening leaned into the cheesy B-movie aspect then it may have worked better because there’s simply no way you can take the silly premise seriously. I know that I’m coming down hard on Shyamalan and The Happening, but it’s a mystery how the guy who made The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable could make such an amateurish film. The Happening does fit into the “so bad its good” category, but this is without a doubt the worst film in Shyamalan’s filmography.

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