A film review by Craig J. Koban





2008, R, 90 mins.

Elliot Moore: Mark Wahlberg / Alma Moore: Zooey Deschanel / Julian: John Leguizamo / Jess: Ashlyn Sanchez / Mrs. Jones: Betty Buckley / Josh: Spencer Breslin

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan



 Director M. Night Shyamalan



Craig, resident film critic of CrAiGeR’s CINEMA CORNER



Your new film 'THE HAPPENING''


Dear Mr. Shyamalan:


I was hoping I would never write to you under these circumstances again.  You may not remember me, but I was the same young critic that wrote to you four years ago just after seeing your fourth film as a director, THE VILLAGE.  Night (can I call you Night?), I must remind you that the previous letter to you was written with the utmost remorse and sincere regret, seeing as I was – at the time – one of your staunchest supporters and fans. 


You came out with such a forceful bang in 1999 with your multiple Oscar-nominated supernatural thriller, THE SIXTH SENSE, which highlighted you as an artist with a keen visual eye that knew how to combine ethereal and haunting images with a tense and involving script.  Ditto for your follow up, 2001’s UNBREAKABLE, not THE SIXTH SENSE’s equal, but an wholeheartedly absorbing and compelling effort (and, for my buck, one of the more intriguing and ingenious super hero films I’ve ever seen).  Then came your crème de le crème, 2002’s SIGNS, which was your most superb effort at that point in your illustrious career.  By this juncture your were developing into one of the most respected new filmmakers of your generation: Comparisons of you to Kubrick, Hitchcock and Spielberg were levied, and with reasonable accuracy.  I really, really thought that you were getting that good.


Again, it came with no pleasure whatsoever that I wrote to you to criticize your fourth film, 2004’s THE VILLAGE, which I – dare I say it to you – placed on my list of 2004’s WORST FILMS…as the worst film of that year.  To say that I went into that with the highest of expectations was a startling understatement.  After the brilliance of SIGNS and the incredible surge of creativity you displayed in your two other great films, I genuinely thought that there was no stopping you.   THE VILLAGE was, in all fairness, a laughably terrible film effort on your part that had a premise that simply did not hold itself up even under modest scrutiny.  I will not attempt to re-open old wounds here again by reiterating my intense displeasure of that film, not to mention my indiscernible disappointment. 


So, I thought, “Okay, everyone deserves a second chance…let’s just get over my reaction to THE VILLAGE and go positively on to your next effort.”  I mean, really, you should have learned from your past mistakes with that film and certainly were too talented and innovative of a film force to make another lackluster thriller…right?  As I wrote to you in 2004, I stated that “I still have faith in you as an artist and as a talented filmmaker and I think that, no doubt, you will parachute out of this failure with a finer follow-up film.”  Sigh.  Unfortunately, your follow-up, the egregiously self-indulgent, silly, and frustrating as hell to sit through LADY IN THE WATER was not, alas, the savior of your career.  It pained me…most severely…to place that film on my list of 2006’s WORST.  To directly quote my conclusion for that review, LADY IN THE WATER was “…an embarrassing turn for the once promising filmmaker that showcases his dark descent into the most verbose and ostentatious storytelling waters.”  Still…I wanted – oh, how I wanted – to give you a second benefit of a doubt that you would come through and help me re-discover my previous admiration for your talent. 


This, of course, brings me to your new post-apocalyptic thriller, THE HAPPENING.  The only thing I can now, with great assuredness, tell you is that…well…I think you have completely lost it.


There.  I said it.


What happened to you, Night?  How could one of the most daring, impressively talented, and unique voices in American cinema take such a categorical nosedive?  In all of my life’s film viewing, I cannot recall a supremely gifted director that made three initial films that were small masterpieces then churn out not one, not two, but three unyieldingly mediocre films.  THE HAPPENING is not only as alienating, puzzling, impenetrable, boring, and dreadfully dull as your last two films, but it just may be…I’m so very sorry…your most awful film as a director.  What was, I had hoped, to be a stirring, atmospheric, and scary potboiler of a thriller is instead, with all due fairness, a grotesquely inane and ridiculous story that inspired more unintentional chuckles and giggles than it did legitimate scares.  


That was not your intention…right?


I mean…Night, Night, Night…what was going through your head with this stinker?  If you were attempting to make a sci-fi cautionary thriller, ala THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, but substituting aliens with vengeful plant life, then mission accomplished.  Yet, am I the only one that thinks that this is just beyond preposterous?  Surely, I believe that you were attempting a solemn and spin-tingling environmental thriller that wanted to tap into our post-9/11 paranoia and mix that in with a Green peace agenda.  Okay.  Fine.  But, jeepers, your execution is so wrong-headed in just about every way that I found it hard for me to react to the film with anything but mocking laughter.  THE HAPPENING owes less to the atmospheric chills of Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg than it does a painfully inept B-grade sci-fi flicks from the 50’s that the hosts of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000 would later rip into.


I will give my props to you for at least providing, in the opening moments of the film, an interesting hook.  These scenes have a ghastly aura about them.  We see people in New York inexplicably commit suicide.  One girl takes her hair clip out and jabs it in her neck, and we later see (in the film’s most gruesome moment) a series of mass suicides in the form of construction workers leaping off of rooftops.  Then we get a scene where a bunch of New Yorkers off themselves with the same gun.  This is all disturbing stuff, Night.  I mean…I truly was left baffled as to what was happening…no pun intended.


Then you introduce us to the players, and it is here where the film takes a free fall, never to recover.   You introduce us to high school science teacher (played by Mark Wahlberg in his least plausible performance; his first few lines in the classroom are clumsy and generate guffaws, a bad sign) and his semi-emotionally troubled wife (the very cute Zooey Deschanel, who plays perplexed well here), their friend, a math teacher (John Leguizamo) and his young daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez, who does what she can with a very minimally written character).  You place these characters in the midst of the “event” in the film, which is first perceived to be a terrorist bio-attack.  Okay, so we soon learn that this is not a terrorist attack, but the true revel of who (or in this case, what) the perpetrator is emerges as the screwiest, most cornball and cockamamie explanation I’ve seen in a film.  I mean, the threat of terrorists or the US government as the villains has some punch, but it sure is hard to be intimidated by…foliage.  Maybe you were preparing the makers of the SCARY MOVIE franchise with their next source material.  Funny…because THE HAPPENING, at times, felt like SCARY MOVIE 5 already.


Anyway, you script the film’s buildup to a would-be creepy sequence where the teacher, his girlfriend, and the young girl all find themselves at the dwelling of a cocky old woman (Betty Buckley), but you reveal her as such a loose cannon of a geezer that only a complete idiot would agree to spend the night at her pad.  Yet, you make you characters stay?!  Why?!  This makes no sense.  Maybe to provide the film with the obligatory “boo” moments where she steps out of the shadows at just the right time.  Yet, the film then proceeds from here to show the aftermath of the airborne suicide-plague to one of the most haphazard explanations / theory of what transpired that I’ve seen in a film (you give us a two minute bit of a newscaster interviewing an environmental scientist that fills in the details) and then, your most cardinal blunder, you give us one of the biggest non-endings in many a moon.  People in the theatre I was at mumbled intense displeasure under their breaths, shaking their hands in the air with a “that’s it” vibe.   It’s one thing for your film to build to something and then have a bad twist at the end, but the way it meanders from one inconsequential scene to the next, desperately searching for something substantial, and then offering up no satisfying way of providing a conclusion…I simply felt indignantly cheated by you, Night.  Even feeble films have the decency to provide some measure of closure.


I don’t know what you were thinking casting Wahlberg (maybe because you cast his brother in a brief turn in THE SIXTH SENSE).  He looks utterly confused with what to do in his performance.  Deschanel plays confused well, mainly because she is often staring at Wahlberg’s confusion.  Leguizamo is barely an entity here.  Some moments of light comedy are sprinkled here to horrendous effect.  A scene where you have Wahlberg having a conversation with a plastic plant is awkward, as is attempts to develop his relationship with Deschanel.  These are appealing actors, but you never made me give a damn about them.  Their dialogue and exchanges are dead on arrival. 


You know what’s worse, Night: your esoteric fingerprints are nowhere to be seen here.  You have displayed yourself to be so exceptional in the past with crafting a macabre mood and tension, but THE HAPPENING shows none of your instinctive footprints.  Instead, we get gore and violence, which, let’s face it, any hack can do.  This is your first R-rated film (it was cheaply advertised as such) but some moments of carnage are kind of ludicrous.  You give us one scene where a character looks at a video on her cell-phone of an infected man allowing himself to be eaten alive by tigers and lions in a zoo.  This moment was about as hammy as a Monty Python sketch.  The worst habit that your film has is that it constantly shows us nonchalant shots of trees, bushes, and plants billowing in the air that are punctuated by James Newton Howard’s “be scared right here” specific score.  Night…tress and bushes are not scary, nor is wind.  Okay, a lingering fart in the wind is scary, but not by itself.  Oh…but wait…you want nature to be the ominous and omnipotently dangerous presence.  Maybe if you had Al Gore swinging around naked through windy trees, then maybe, just maybe, I could see nature as a real threat.


I think I need to wrap up here, Night.  First, I want to really thank you for allowing me to vent here to you.  I am sure it is really difficult to read one of your fans ridicule your most recent work with such a fevered passion.  Yet, you deserve upfront honesty, and I honestly and passionately think that THE HAPPENING is your most alarmingly dull, innocuous, outlandish, and sleep inducing thriller yet.  You give us a half-baked parable of 9/11 panic-obsessed culture alongside an absurdly silly eco-centric message (be good to plants, or else).  Perhaps your biggest sin here is that nothing interesting or captivating happens throughout all of the THE HAPPENING.  Instead of constantly gripping my theatre seat armrests, I was checking my watch and looking for the quickest exit-escape route.  Instead of making a numbing, sobering, and scary cautionary thriller with a grotesque bite, the film feels like a bad, nightmarish parody of the work you were trying to make.  After I saw LADY IN THE WATER I stated that - if you did not come out swinging with your next film - it would be three strikes against you, resulting in your regretful demise as the heir apparent of Spielberg.  The biggest letdown of THE HAPPENING is that it was a strike three pitch right across the plate that you did not even bother swinging at.


In short, and in summation…I am at a complete loss for words, Night.  You have made three of my favorite entertainments of the last ten years…but now you have made three of the worst.  I once considered myself an unparalleled fan and appreciator of your work.  


Now…I’m not so sure.  There is something happening to you...and I don't know what.


For your next film…please…I beg you…make me a believer again.


Yours truly,



  H O M E