Deemed to be one of M. Night Shyamalan’s worst films, The Happening blew critics away with its mediocrity and wowed audiences with its ridiculousness. Despite being a weak film, the marketing for the film paid off in spades, as the film more than tripled its budget worldwide. Unfortunately for those expecting one of Shyalman’s scariest and most horrific films to date, especially with this being his first film to be slapped with an R rating, they were left with nothing of the sort.
In this heart-pounding apocalyptic thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, the writer-director of The Sixth Sense and Signs, comes a gripping thriller about a family on the run from a mysterious and deadly phenomenon. Academy Award Nominee Mark Wahlberg (2006 Best Supporting Actor – The Departed) stars as Elliot Moore, an ordinary man trying to save his family from a terrifying, invisible killer. As Elliot begins to discover the true nature of what is lurking out there, it soon becomes clear that no one—and nowhere—is safe.
If words could only describe how I feel about this film. I knew going into it that it was going to be mediocre, but I thought it was just more anti-Shyamalan bugaboo and considering I’ve enjoyed all of his films on some scale I wanted to give this one a fair shot. Surprisingly the R rating is squandered and, quite frankly, barely even used for this film and I wonder if they purposely bloodied it up to get the R rating, as there is hardly anything in it to warrant such a rating. Sure, some gruesome visuals accompany it, but anyone under the age of 17 who wants to see this film are going to be more entertained by it than those who are “mature” enough to see it.
I’m not sure when I gave up on this film. It couldn’t have been anymore than a half hour into it before I realized just how ridiculous it all was. Wahlberg’s main character was ludicrous from the start and the dialogue that pours out of these characters mouths is nothing short of baffling. It wasn’t even the incredulous plot of plants turning against us that offended me the most, it was just the sheer stupidity of the film itself. On top of the plants killing us, we’re never given a real explanation for how it occurred or why, only that “we may never know the real causes” (or something similar) being stated in the film on multiple occasions. If you haven’t guessed, the film isn’t exactly subtle with its message (“Quit treating the environment bad!”), but again, that’s not even what I found appalling about it…it was the characters and the situations they were put in that I found to be the most ridiculous.
Our main characters are hardly even worth mentioning as they all eventually either die off or start saying stupid things, but between Wahlberg and co-star Zooey Deschanel, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a non-laughable bit of dialogue between them. Once I decided this film wasn’t even supposed to be scary or disturbing in the least, I just allowed myself to laugh at it all. The final switch came after Wahlberg started talking to a plastic tree that just made me flip out. Did Shyalaman seriously write this with sincerity or did he just want to make a horror/comedy picture? The extras on the set certainly don’t point to the comical nature of the piece being intentional, but they do joke around a lot on set which I can’t help but feel might have contributed to the overall nature of the film.
So is this film worth watching? No. It isn’t. Unless you want to watch something so hilariously awful that you’ll be entertained regardless. As disappointed as I’ve come with Shyamalan, with each one of his films getting worse and worse as time goes by, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained by The Happening. It is perhaps the first genuinely accidental stupid film I’ve enjoyed, so much so I’ll be sliding it right alongside Shyamalan’s other works. It’s not a horror film and it’s certainly not going to disturb you (although the last ditch effort to have the crazy lady come by and screw with your head was a decent effort, but that exchange between her and Wahlberg in the stairwell had me clutching my sides with laughter). Granted, it starts out promising enough, with the bodies throwing themselves off of the roof top (some people found this comical too, but I thought it was a fantastically done shot, with the angles and sound effects of their clothes fluttering really driving it home) and is followed up by a few other rather disturbing images of people hanging themselves and a round of people offing themselves with the same gun, one by one. Not enough to warrant sitting through ninety minutes, however, unless you can appreciate the stupidity of it all.
Overall The Happening is a massive dud. You won’t enjoy it unless you go in fully prepared to expect the worst, but also be prepared to laugh. A lot. It didn’t help matters any that I saw this film after the SNL sketch with Samberg parodying Wahlberg (“Now I’m gonna talk to a donkey!”), so I had that fueling my funny bone already, but with a story paper thin and a “moral” as subtle as a brick to the head, The Happening has nothing redeeming to offer to audiences. Skip It or Rent It for a laugh.
The Happening arrives in a standard dual disc Blu-ray Elite case with a digital copy of the film as well as the usual Fox inserts (advertisements, firmware notices). Fox has chosen to ruin the cover for the film by plastering a big ass “Digital Copy” banner along the top; they really should just relegate that information to a sticker or the back cover, as, even though I find the whole digital copy thing nice if you use them, I don’t need it spoiling the cover art. Menus for the release are nicely done, with smooth animation in-between menu transitions, although it’s very much set up like a standard DVD menu.
The film sports an AVC (@ 30mbps) encoded transfer that does a fair job of portraying the film, although it didn’t bowl me over with any spectacular visuals. It’s not a horrible looking transfer by any means, but perhaps it was because I was so uninterested in it that I simply didn’t care what was happening on screen or how it looked but…honestly, nothing sticks out in my head about this one. It had a nice hazy level of grain intact and plenty of texture, hair, facial, etc. detail going on, but there isn’t a single shot that has you going “Oh wow!” Then again, there isn’t one that has you going “Oh crap, look at the DNR!” so I guess it’s a double sided coin.
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix is wholly underwhelming as well, as most of the film is dialogue (shudder) based and that’s all mostly front focused. A few nice bouts of wind rushing through the speakers is about all we get in terms of surround usage and the near four minute intro of the credits against clouds will test your patience if you don’t have the surrounds keeping you company. There is little use for the subwoofer on this film and all in all it’s kept mostly to itself. Music and dialogue is cleanly heard throughout all of it (including Wahlberg’s speech to himself where he calls himself a “douchebag.” Nice.). Alternate English, Spanish and French DD5.1 tracks are available as well, as are subtitles in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean.
As with most Shyalaman releases, there is always plenty to check out in the extras department, although he once again doesn’t include a commentary, which his mildly disappointing (would’ve loved to hear him talk himself out of this one). First up is a series of bonus footage (36:32) that can be played during the film itself, or separately if your player isn’t capable of playing it or you just want to watch it all together rather than have it pop up during the film (hear that Universal? Do this!). A trivia track can also be flicked on as part of the Blu-ray bonuses.
The rest of the extras, all of which are in 1080p, are as follows. A mini-featurette titled “Train Shooting” (4:15) which covers the train sequences in the film, “The Hard Cut” (9:02) talks about the more brutal elements of the film, while “Forces Unseen” (4:40) and “I Hear You Whispering” (4:18) focus on specific areas of the film (which are rather explanatory if you’ve seen the film already). A “Gag Reel” (2:39) is included (funny, I thought I just watched the gag reel—oh wait, that was the film) as are a few “Deleted Scenes” (11:55) with optional commentary by Shyamalan. A quick “Making Of” (11:54) is included and “A Day for Night” (6:46), some shots of the director setting up and talking to cast, “Elements of a Scene” (10:03), which discusses how scenes are composed, wrap up the set.
Overall it’s a decent mix of extras, but whether you want to watch them is another thing. This release comes with the same suggestion as the film itself: Skip It or Rent It for a laugh.
The Happening is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.