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The Happening

Mark Wahlberg is only as good as the director given to him


The Happening brings about the realization that Mark Wahlberg is only as good as the director given to him---maybe if Martin Scorsese or P.T. Anderson or, even, Sixth Sense M. Night Shyamalan was directing him, Wahlberg’s everyman science teacher pose and his foreshadowing speech about unexplained bee deaths would be more credible.
The suspense of the film is never very intense due to the half-formed premise of the movie: An airborne toxin causes people to spontaneously end their lives. But what is causing it, how does it spread and, most pressing, how can we avoid getting infected? I’m not confident that even Shyamalan knows the answers, and the fact that there is room for doubt at the end of the film is indicative of the lulls in pacing.
Needless tension---and that term should never be applied to a suspense movie---is added in the form of potential infidelity between Wahlberg and his wife, Zooey Deschanel. An event is happening yet we are asked to indulge Deschanel a long-winded explanation of a dessert date with a colleague? You need romantic chemistry for an audience to want the characters to work out their problems, let alone make it out alive, and Wahlberg and Deschanel don’t have that chemistry.
Dialogue is delivered in such a stilted and hammy way that the lines come off as hilarious rather than suspenseful. As he is about to drive off and go look for his wife, John Leguizamo uses more passion than anticipated when he tells Deschanel not to take his daughter’s hand “unless you mean it!” Huh? What if Deschanel said, “You know, I don’t mean it. I’m just gonna leave her here.”
Shyamalan’s inability to elicit an appropriate or consistent tone from his actors undermines the terror in his story. Scenes with unexpected developments, like when some more innocent characters meet a violent end, become funny because it is impossible to discern what Shyamalan is trying to say or show us. His lack of direction becomes a punch line. Part of me can’t wait to see what his next movie is going to be because where the hell is this guy going to go from here?

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