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The Happening Review – Another Serving of Homicidal Vegetables

The Happening Review – Another Serving of Homicidal Vegetables” width=”560″/>

It’s been quite the year for killer plants, what with The Ruins and its foreign flesh-sucking vines. Now, director M. Night Shyamalan has turned in The Happening, a movie which doesn’t even live up to its title because nothing happens. Marky Mark and his wife leave town. They walk through the country. They stay overnight in an old lady’s house. They come home the next day and, I guess, get busy at some point, because three months later, Alma (the wife, played spookily by Zooey Deschanel) is pregnant. In between, there are lots of shots of rustling leaves, trees shaking their branches and grass bending in the breeze. If you’ve managed to finish this paragraph without falling asleep, then congratulations — I just saved you 10 bucks.

The movie starts out with a mild decaf kick as a bunch of extras milling about Central Park suddenly kill themselves. Then some construction workers jump off a building. No one can figure out what’s going on but, half an hour later, people in Philadelphia start to blow their brains out. Shyamalan grew up in Pennsylvania and for him, this is a sign that humanity has caused nature to go out of whack and the plants are now trying to kill us all.

Homicidal vegetables have been done before — The Day of the Triffids , Invasion of the Body Snatchers , Little Shop of Horrors — but rarely have they been done so pathetically. To horrify his audience, Shyamalan shoots trees blowing in the wind, which probably saved a lot of money, but it lacks that certain sense of menace. Shyamalan has been comparing his own movie to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds but there is one key difference between the two: Birds move, plants sway. Night of the Lepus, in which giant killer rabbits fueled by hate come after humanity, proved the importance of a good monster in a horror movie, but Shyamalan clearly wasn’t paying attention.

In fact, judging by this lethargic movie, he’s barely even trying.
Characters stop constantly at inconvenient moments — in the middle of
evacuations, after a double murder, while trying to escape a doomed
town — to talk about their uninteresting feelings. In a cheap horror
movie, this would be the moment when the monster catches up with them
and bites off their talky heads, but Shyamalan commits a cardinal sin:
He lets them finish their conversations. Call me old fashioned, but I
don’t care about Marky Mark’s under-developed, poorly-written marital
difficulties — especially when they revolve not around infidelity, but
around dessert. Tiramisu, in fact. A horror movie in which someone is
allowed to utter the word “Tiramisu” and live to the end credits is a
horror movie that has given up any claims to horror. It’s Hallmark
Horror: Scare flicks developed for people who think Lifetime movies are
too intense.

Zooey Deschanel is the best thing to watch in the
film — with her wide, blue “I see dead people” eyes, it’s fun to try
to figure out what it is she thinks she’s doing in every scene. John
Leguizamo plays a math teacher who is the closest thing to a real
character in this over-written, deterministic script, but because he’s
non-white, he can’t be cast in the lead role, which goes to Mark
Wahlberg. I’m partial to Marky Mark because he was great in The Big Hit ,
but here, his wispy, distracted performance is like a bowl of bran
cereal that’s been left out overnight: Soggy, bland and boring. Imagine
a serious remake of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and you’ve got The Happening.

Grady Hendrix is one of the founders and programmers of the New York Asian Film Festival. He writes about Asian film for Variety at Kaiju Shakedown and should have found something better to do with his life by now.

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