Months ago, I defended The Lone Ranger because I thought it was unfairly maligned. Recently, I saw for the first time another movie that everyone and their mother seems to hate. I assume you all read the title of this article, hence why you’re reading it, but I still have a flair for the dramatic – That movie is The Happening. I realize this movie has its defenders. Roger Ebert gave it a positive review. Stephen King is a fan. Oddly enough, Todd in the Shadows defended this movie. I think everyone on this site can piece together why yours truly saw this movie, but I had a certain level of curiosity about the actual content. I also wanted to rent to the movie for Halloween. Unfortunately for me, Halloween ended up going in overtime this year. And by over time, I received the last Halloween movie I rented from Netflix in late November. So having finally seen, I have to ask: Is The Happening really that bad? (Obligatory name drop)

When I wrote my article about The Lone Ranger, I wrote a lot about the time it came out and how it was viewed at the time. I can’t really speak about what I thought about this movie at the time, how it was marketed, or critical reception. I wasn’t into internet reviewing yet so I wasn’t religiously reading reading/watching reviews. Me personally, I remember 2008 as the summer I completed my first semester at Kent State, wrestling actually being worth watching, and getting a season pass at Cedar Point. In terms of movies, it should be no surprise that The Dark Knight was THE movie I remember that summer. I also wanted to see Iron Man pretty badly but couldn’t convince my brother to go. Oddly enough the other movie I wanted to see that I GOT TO was ANOTHER unfairly maligned movie: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (But that’s an article for another day… maybe).
However, I was following the Razzies pretty closely back then, and I do remember The Happening was nominated for several Razzies including Worst Picture. Its competition that year included The Love Guru, Disaster Movie, movies starring Paris Hilton and multiple Uwe Boll movies. Good lord, that’s like an all-star lineup of shitty movies! It’s a good thing 2008 gave us The Dark Knight, Wall-E, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Iron Man, Milk, The Wrestler (among others – to keep it short I’m only talking about my favorites) – otherwise it may have been known as a really bad year for movies!
I’m going to stop dancing around the obvious issue: I do vaguely remember being interested by the presence of my beautiful Zooey. This was sort of a transition area in my love for her. This was back when my interest in her was starting to blossom. I remember being excited about Tin Man because she was in that, and I remember being excited for the first She & Him album (though looking back on it, the subsequent albums were MUCH better, but everyone’s got to start somewhere). However, I wasn’t full-blown obsessed with her yet.
The other big name attached with the film was Shyamalan. It makes sense that a director will be a big point of a movie, but this was another time it was different. By this point, our love affair with Shyamalan was long over, but he still somehow had marketing power. Like a lot of people, I liked The Sixth Sense and Signs when they came out, but I had considered myself as gone sour on him to the point where I sent those movies to the Exchange – maybe turning against The Sixth Sense was a little extreme. When it comes to Shyamalan, I feel like his time is up. He had a few good movies in him, but we gave him many chances to redeem himself, and he’s blown all of them. I also think Shyamalan’s problem is that he was too successful too soon. Yeah, The Sixth Sense is good, but the success went to his head, and he started cranking out more movies before he really had ideas. Though to be fair, I am one of those people who LIKES Unbreakable. We all know The Last Airbender was the final nail in the coffin for Shyamalan, but I have to confess, I always thought this film was the career-killer. And here’s the thing: Despite The Happening’s reputation… it actually made money. So I guess that’s why he got to make more movies. Either way, I think that’s the reason I didn’t pay much attention to The Happening. The Last Airbender hadn’t killed his career completely, but it was still when the guy was considered a joke, so I wasn’t interested.
Now that I’ve rambled on about the backstory, maybe I should actually review the movie. You can probably tell by the title that I’m on the defense side of this movie. There are things that work about this movie. For starters, this movie does build suspense well. Stephen King said that one of the reasons he liked this movie is that by making an R-rated movie, Shyamalan was no longer pulling his punches. And he is right, the scenes of people dying are pretty graphic, and help build that aforementioned suspense. Also, I did find it to be an interesting premise – nature turning on man, not knowing who could be next or where it could be coming from, having a problem that’s basically everywhere.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason I posted my position as a question rather than straight-up calling this “Defending The Happening.” I kind of see why people don’t like this movie. It does have some serious flaws. The film is replete with clunky dialogue, which begets (draws huge sigh) weak performances. Look, I can’t ignore the elephant in the room. Everybody has a bad one in them. I trashed The Michael J. Fox Show, I commented that David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down… let me down (I can’t be the first person to make that joke). And yeah, this is not one of Zooey’s better performances. And it’s not one of Mark Wahlberg’s better performances either. And it’s not like they have a lot to work with. The characters aren’t well-defined either. Mark Wahlberg later admitted he only took the part because it was a chance to play someone that wasn’t a criminal.
Now defending my beautiful Zooey’s acting and talking about sexism in Hollywood are probably articles on their own, but I think the reaction people have given to these respective performances is seriously hypocritical. People denigrate Zooey’s performance, but in the same breath, they say Wahlberg was just “misdirected.” “Shyamalan sucked the charisma out of him.” “Wahlberg was making fun of the material.” And yes, I do like Mark Wahlberg as an actor, but Zooey Deschanel has turned in some great performances, in dramatic roles no less – films like Manic (no relation), (500) Days of Summer, and Winter Passing. I think saying it’s not Mark Wahlberg’s fault his performance is bad, but it is Zooey Deschanel’s fault for a bad performance is characteristic of Hollywood double standards – that we basically review actresses by who we find attractive. Some of you may be thinking “Oh, Alex is just defending her performance because he has a crush on her.” To quote Billy Joel, you may be right. I may be crazy, but it might just be a lunatic you’re looking for. (Sorry, I really like that song.) I’m not immune to this logic either. I can pretty much guarantee that if Zooey weren’t in this movie I wouldn’t have seen it. However, that’s part of the problem! Did anyone say or think that I defended Johnny Depp’s performance in The Lone Ranger because I think he’s good-looking? When discussing women in movies, our opinions begin and end with who we have crushes on. Also, any time the actors don’t have to read Shyamalan’s clunky dialogue, and just rely on facial expressions and reactions, they actually fair well.
(Side note: For those of you who don’t know, I’m also quite keen on Amy Adams. She was the back up choice. I guess someone I’m in love was doomed to have this movie as their albatross.)
Now that I’ve gotten that mini-tirade off my chest (I had to stop there to prevent this article from being a full-blown tirade), there is one scene I want to address. Despite my claim that people have forgiven Mark Wahlberg for his performance, there is one scene that has haunted Mark Wahlberg. Specifically, everyone loves to take digs at him for the scene where he talks to the fake houseplant. “Hur, hur, he’s talking to a plant, isn’t that so stupid!” Todd in the Shadows (of all people) pointed this out to me, but… um… You do all know that scene was MEANT to be funny, right? It’s Mark Wahlberg talking to a plant… and realizing it’s a fake plant. Why would you think that would a serious moment? By laughing at it, you are enjoying the scene as it was meant to be enjoyed!
So in conclusion, I did kind of like The Happening in the way that I would enjoy a B-movie. It was technically a mediocre movie, but it had enough good qualities to keep me entertained. Now, my argument would have ended there, but I learned something I found interesting. After deciding I liked The Happening as a B-movie, I figured it turned out that way by accident because Shyamalan has his head too far up his own ass to do something like that on purpose. But as I was looking into this movie’s background, I found a quote from Shyamalan where he said he was making “an excellent B-movie.” Though looking at it from that viewpoint, I feel Shyamalan either messed up or did his job TOO WELL.
Looking at this as a B-movie, the film makes more sense: The absurd premise, the graphic violence – those are all characteristics of B-movies. Everyone’s criticized the performances and the dialogue – Did Shyamalan do that on purpose to replicate a B-movie? If that’s the case, I say he did his job too well. This argument reminds me a lot of Death Proof. Death Proof was a little more open about trying to replicate B-movies, so it presented the same problem. It replicated the elements that gave those movies a bad reputation. By doing that, the movie was turned into one big joke that most of the audience wasn’t in on.
Looking at it as a B-movie, Shyamlan also didn’t go all the way with his idea. If this is a B-movie, why have Hollywood production values? Why have A-list actors? Why have a serious environmental message? We seem to have a love-hate relationship with B-movies. I like what the Cinema Snob said: “Like all critics, I love Tarantino’s movies, but I hate the movies that inspired them.” We’ve liked movies that have B-movie elements: Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy and the Indiana Jones movies have all been described as having B-movie elements. And I guess that may be the difference, they have the INGREDIANTS of B-movies, but still presented A-level quality films. Also, I think the other difference is tone. Those films used B-movie elements to create fun, feel good adventure films while The Happening has a (mostly) serious tone and presentation.
So that’s why I kind of like The Happening. It’s not a movie I love, and it borders on guilty pleasure. It also doesn’t even really fill any needs for me. If I want to watch a good thriller about nature, I’ve got the birds. If I want to ogle Zooey Deschanel, I’ve got plenty of options including New Girl, Tin Man or Our Idiot Brother – AKA that movie that made me insanely jealous of Rashida Jones. I can kind of understand why people dislike this one. However, I also commend Shyamalan for taking a gamble. Unfortunately, not all gambles pay off, and this is one that did not. At the same time, I don’t think this movie deserves to be considered one of the all-time worst.

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