The Happening

06/11/2008 12:00 AM |

The title is just one of the things wrong with this movie, conjuring up (for people of a certain generation, anyway) a bouncy Supremes hit or a groovy, tie-dyed shindig, rather than the disaster awaiting the main characters. After an unexplained rash of suicides all over the Northeast, panicked Americans hit the road in search of refuge from…something. Among them are science teacher Mark Wahlberg and his wife, the miscast Zooey Deschanel, whose giant, glazed eyes give the impression she’s already under the spell of this unseen force. (As a fellow teacher, John Leguizamo is [spoiler alert] dispatched too early to do much except act nervous and spout percentages about survival). But the intriguing premise isn’t fleshed out enough: the deaths occur too quickly for any sense of doom or drama to establish itself, there seems to be no government response or comment on the situation (ok, maybe that’s intentional), and the possible environmental explanation for the “happening” is first presented as just a theory, then hammered home in one of the final scenes, implying that such occurrences will continue if we don’t take better care of the planet. (How? Why?)

As he’s shown with films like The Sixth Sense and Signs, Shyamalan knows how to build tension and dread rather than outright fear, and he’s captured some of the atmosphere of classic 50s paranoia flicks. While that’s effective some of the time, the film isn’t as terrifying and ominous as it thinks it is — there’s only so many ways you can show wind gusts rippling fields and bending trees, accompanied by dark, apocalyptic music, before it becomes kind of silly.

Opens June 13