Dear M. Night Shyamalan,
I’ve been a fan of your work for many years now, and one of the rapidly dwindling few who acknowledge your mastery for creating on-screen suspense. Those early Hitchcock comparisons were not wildly off-base. The Sixth Sense was obviously hugely successful (deservedly), but I actually thought that your follow-ups Unbreakable and Signs were equally, if not more, efficient. They showed a level of directorial subtlety and control (atypical in mainstream cinema) which, even in the flawed yet entertaining The Village, was eerily effective in creating a mood of unease. Now, we all know Lady In The Water was a dismal trainwreck (People just can’t take the word Narf seriously), so I was really psyched when I started hearing that your latest work, The Happening, would be a return to form. Well, having now just endured that film, I have only one question for you: What in the name of Haley Joel Osment were you thinking?
Now, on paper I can sort of see why you felt this story might work. I agree that it would be really frightening if people began inexplicably going gonzo and committing suicide. I can also recognize that, in casting Mark Wahlberg, you were continuing your tradition of using straight-edged, stoic male leads to help ground the far-out premise. It worked with Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson, right? While I struggled to accept him as a high school science teacher, I was more than willing to oversee this trivial nitpick. However, as the plot persisted, with Wahlberg’s Elliot Moore, along with his moody wife (Zooey Deschanel) and math instructor best friend (John Leguizamo), fleeing a rapidly degenerating Philadelphia, things started gettin’ goofy. Really goofy.
See, we all knew right off the bat what was causing the epidemic. The advertisements have made it blatantly clear, as do you with the endless shots of trees and grass blowing in the wind, that Mother Nature is the culprit. It worked out pretty good for your idol Hitchcock when he made The Birds forty-five years ago, so why shouldn’t it work again! Well, because there are few things less terrifying than swaying foliage (Except maybe chipmunks, although they have those sharp teeth...), and you never really found a way to solve that inherent dilemma.
Audiences will accept many things on faith. They are unlikely, however, to watch the former Marky Mark try to pacify a house plant without engaging in disbelieving laughter. The Happening has a lot of moments like that, and I quickly found myself joining in. For example, that scene with the nutty shotgun-wielding recluse making a gruesome example of two aggressive teens didn’t leave a dry eye in the house. Equally popular was the suicidal zoo keeper feeding his arms to a pair of lions, along with Wahlberg and co. attempting (and almost succeeding) to outrun the wind! By the time Betty Buckley (channeling Mrs. Bates?) showed up as a loony outsider harshly accusing Elliot of “eyeing her lemon drink”, I had given up and surrendered to the silliness.
While I suspect you weren’t intending to craft a worthy successor to Nic Cage’s camp-tastic The Wicker Man, it seems you’ve just done that. The internet folk are already referring to this calamity as The Crappening, which, you have it admit, is kind of amusing. I think it’s time for you to take a break from screenwriting and collaborate with some other talented individuals. You’ve got a good eye! Find a decent script and remind us why we loved you in the first place! Because lord knows, after The Happening dies down, you’re going to be in desperate need of a comeback...
Best wishes for a speedy recovery,
1.5 out of 5