starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Betty Buckley
written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
by Walter Chaw The number one, indisputable, biggest surprise of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening is that it doesn't entirely suck--followed fast by the stunner that the director-writer-producer-demiurge doesn't appear anywhere in the film as Christ on a chariot. After his self-aggrandizing cameos in Signs (as catalyst to the story's existence and outcome), The Village (as star of the "twist" in the film's most complicated lighting/camera set-up), and Lady in the Water (as author of the Bible), it seemed that was the next logical step. Instead, The Happening is a Larry Cohen-esque thriller along the lines of God Told Me To, delivered with a heavy hand, to be sure, but full of some of the most delicious misanthropy to hit screens since Julia Roberts was making romantic comedies. Shyamalan, if we follow the auteur theory as closely as he claims to, hates his fellow man enough so that a coda revealing a blessed pregnancy is framed in such a way as to suggest that mankind is spelling its own doom with this urge to procreate. By extension, it's tempting to see it as a criticism of pictures that end in Spielberg town, with marriages and babies and a cabin in the woods for the precogs. If Shyamalan is to the point where he's actively flipping the bird to audiences and expectations, eschewing his life-support systems for twists and protracted takes in favour of ugly, flat, uninspired action sequences and blighted implications, then I might actually at this point be looking forward to his next one. Meaning, at the end of the day, that's the biggest surprise of The Happening.