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</script></div>{/googleAds}There's an eerie beauty in nearly every frame of an M. Night Shyamalan film. He's a master at setting up a simple camera shot and giving it a slightly off-center appeal that is alluring, yet at the same time, threatening. About the only positive comment that can be said about his previous film, Lady in the Water, is that it was beautifully photographed... and the same goes for his latest, The Happening. It's not that the film is a complete and total disaster however, as there are some truly harrowing moments. But it seems the description that has almost always accompanied any mention of the slumping filmmaker is now one of his main vulnerabilities - he can no longer be considered a good storyteller. And while we're at it, he really doesn't have a very solid grasp on getting the most from his performers either. But more on that later...

The Happening actually has a very disturbingly effective opening that initially leads us to believe that perhaps MNS has his wheels back on and we're in for something really good. Spooky music fills the background as New Yorkers stroll through Central Park, a slight breeze rustling the trees. But soon, people lose their orientation and suddenly freeze in their steps. Some even begin to walk backwards. Construction workers leap from high atop buildings and cops shoot themselves with their service revolvers. Something has obviously gone haywire. Seeing and hearing those workers hit the ground eerily reminds us of the bodies crashing into the lobby of the twin towers during the 9/11 attack. The reason for the highly advertised R rating quickly becomes evident.

The HappeningMeanwhile, in a high school classroom, science instructor Elliott Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is teaching his students about the mysteries of nature when he's suddenly alerted to what are described as terrorist attacks on New York City. It seems that some sort of toxic chemical has been released in the air that causes people to find the nearest means of offing themselves. Soon, the entire northeastern region of the United States is being attacked by the mysterious airborne toxin. Shortly thereafter, Moore gathers his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian's young daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) and heads to safety in rural Pennsylvania. It's not made readily evident why the countryside would be safe from airborne bioterrorism. But regardless, the breakdown of transportation and communication services leaves a bunch of people stranded in a tiny town where a once sleepy diner becomes discussion place for the next course of action... which just happens to be "run."

Despite the goofy cause and effect behind the enemy, there's actually great potential in the premise, and the gruesome kill scenes make for some truly frightening moments. Ordinarily, such grisly violence does nothing to ratchet up the terror factor (don't confuse slasher horror with true horror!), but the way Shyamalan blends the richly saturated color palette of an open rye field in the Pennsylvania countryside with an infected person becoming farm combine fodder, sends a cold chill down the spine, almost redeeming the entire film of its abysmally poor dialogue and even worse display of acting.

Throughout the years, many a detractor has been waiting for the slightest misstep to put Wahlberg on the shortlist of nominees for a Razzie. And admittedly, this author too has searched for reasons to criticize. But time and again, he turns in a solid enough performance to prove himself worthy of A-list status. That is up until now. In The Happening, he's just plain awful... and so is Deschanel. Even many of the bit-part players seem as if they're stammering film school dialogue that they've never even read before.

The Happening is almost good. It begins with a bang but slowly disintegrates into a poorly executed, crudely acted mess of a film. Shyamalan needed a strong comeback, but just as he has done in his last several efforts, his imagination wrote a check his pen couldn't cash. Perhaps he's not as good a writer as we all thought. It'd be easy to declare that it's time for him to stop writing and begin directing material of others, but his directorial skills here do nothing to back that brilliant proclomation.

Component Grades
2 stars
3 Stars
DVD Experience
2.5 stars


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Language and Sound: English: DTS 5.1 Surround; English: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; introduction by M. Night Shyamalan; gag reel; additional featurettes.

* Deleted Scenes Includes several scenes that didn't make the final cut
o "Arriving At The Dolphin"
* Featurettes
o The Hard Cut
o I Hear You Whispering
o Visions of the Happening
o A Day for a Night
o Elements of a Scene
* Gag Reel
* Trailers

Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase Packaging