The Happening

The Happening ★★★½

“You like hot dogs?”

I think the intentional comedy is very visible in the alternating golly-gee Americana (see Jeremy Strong saying “cheese and crackers” in response to dead bodies) and ridiculously petty human drama that keeps getting in the way of solidarity and strategy, which works for Shyamalan’s greater, deeply cynical point: in the face of unimaginable catastrophe, people will continue to act as bafflingly as the world at large. It’s telling that the only location that poses no harm to anyone is a fake house with a fake plant.

“Alright, be scientific, douchebag!”

I see why that intentionality of tone was and still is lost on most people. Shyamalan (historically a super sincere boy) doesn’t quite have the delicate writer’s hand he needs in order to play this as an homage to clunky B thrillers of old (I was reminded of Queen of Blood and The Thing from Another World, but I imagine that you could take your pick) without becoming a parody of them (i.e., funny without being mocking, a fine line). He wants this to be smart-dumb, but even with Fujimoto’s intelligent eye that always highlights the swallowing or smothering environments, the balance often superficially plays dumb-dumb. The other, much more devastating issue is that Wahlberg does not seem in on the joke at all. His eyes are so wide open that winking seems impossible for him. I think that makes him even funnier than someone who could apply a knowing flat affect to the role, but it also leaves the audience without a guide. It took me until the appearance of Frank Collison’s kooky, hot-dog-loving nursery owner for to buy into the idea that Shyamalan knew what he was doing, and some of his energy in any of the leads would have provided a welcome sign of awareness.

“Hello. My name is Elliot Moore. I just wanted to talk in a very positive manner, giving off good vibes.” — Mark Wahlberg to a houseplant.

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