Length: 91 minutes
Director: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense; Signs)
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense; Signs)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Betty Buckley, Spencer Breslin, Robert Bailey, Jr., Alan Ruck, Frank Collison, Jeremy Strong, Victoria Clark, M. Night Shyamalan, Alison Folland
Poor M. Night Shyamalan. I mean, this guy comes out of nowhere and has the misfortunate (or fortune, depending on how you look at- I guess it did make him rich, famous, and a multiple Oscar nominee) of making the first big movie with the “trick ending” that Hollywood beat to death for the next five or six years. Yeah, we all loved “The Sixth Sense” and I’ve got to hand it to M. Night that even though he felt trapped with the trick ending deal for most of his career so far, he hasn’t made the easy duplicate of that film. He didn’t even make a sequel, which everybody would have surely eaten up. Instead, he made a grimly realistic superhero movie (“Unbreakable”), an old sci-fi homage (“Signs”), and an underrated movie about people unsatisfied with the train wreck society is becoming (“The Village”). I have yet to see “Lady in the Water”, though I was assured by everyone that just adored “The Sixth Sense” that it was a waste of time. Shyamalan went from being the next Hitchcock to a hack because he refused to cater to an audience that wanted him to be a one trick pony. That’s why I have a very strong feeling that I am going to be in the minority when I say that his latest feature, “The Happening”, is his best movie since “The Sixth Sense” and it’s also his most intelligent. All of the people that claimed that Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” scared the hell out of them are sure to not see that this movie is going for the same effect. All they want is a bunch of cheap scares and an ending where Mark Wahlberg ends up being a space alien who’s pregnant with his own brother or something. “The Sixth Sense” was in 1999 people get over it! If you’re still going around uttering “I see dead people” then you shouldn’t be allowed to be watch movies anymore anyway. Ahem… sorry about the minor rant, anyway… Wahlberg stars as a high school science teacher, Elliot Moore, who during class one day is interrupted by his math teacher friend, Julian (John Leguizamo). Julian informs him that the Northeast is under a chemical terrorist attack. Apparently, the terrorists have dropped some chemical warfare on us that makes us go crazy and become extremely suicidal (get ready for a particularly gruesome scene involving a man and a zoo tiger). Moore gathers up his clinically depressed wife, Alma (the always wonderful and beautiful Zooey Deschanel) and Julian grabs his daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez) and they head to the train station to try to escape to the west. Julian’s wife gets stuck behind and must wait for the next train. The “disease” seems to start spreading faster than anyone thought and the trains have to stop running- leaving all of the passengers stuck in the middle of nowhere. That’s when everyone starts figuring out that maybe it’s not the act of those crazy terrorists, but something that has pissed off Mother Nature. I won’t ruin any of the plot, because the movie requires a slow build of tension and character development. The movie works so well because of the dynamics of the relationship between the failing marriage of Wahlberg and Deschanel. It’s the best job M. Night has done at creating characters since his debut. There’s also a really well done sequence involving a stop off at a mentally long gone hermit (Betty Buckley- giving that scary old lady from “The Orphanage” a run for her money in the “scariest old lady in a movie” category), who has no idea what’s happening in the outside world, but is scarier than what is happening outside of her home. I have a sad, sad feeling that this movie is going to be terribly misunderstood and people are going to unfairly call it pointless and boring and all kinds of other things because they won’t understand what the filmmaker is going for. For those people, there’s always that “Sixth Sense” DVD, for people that like to think when they watch a movie that tries to make something original out of a thriller- take a chance on “The Happening”. It may not make the general public proud, but it would have made Hitchcock very much so.