The Happening (Fox, 2008) D: M. Night Shyamalan, w/ Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel. Rating: NN; DVD package: NNN
Three cheers for M. Night Shyamalan. It's not everyone who can make a movie both scary and boring at the same time.
Shyamalan, who's been honing his scary chops since The Sixth Sense, has the technique down pat: oppressive framing, off-kilter timing and ominous sounds. This time they deliver some eerie suicides and tense tiptoeing.
Sadly, Shyamalan's dramatic skills are as patchy as ever. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel play an unhappily married couple in flight from a plague of unexplained suicides. Their marital woes contribute nothing to the bigger story or to their eventual fates.
The bigger story starts out fine - social collapse brought on by a mysterious mass suicide epidemic. Before long, we're spoon-fed the mystery's solution, and it's a real tension-killer. Right away we know that the infected are a threat to no one but themselves, the menace will stop on its own, the movie won't have a climax and the threat is nothing more than rustling leaves. Shrubbery is not scary.
The last half-hour picks up considerably with the appearance of Betty Buckley as half-mad loner Mrs. Jones. She's well worth the wait.
Somewhere in the solid extras package, Shyamalan talks about making a good B movie with extreme violence. He needs to get out more.
There's nothing here to get more than a mild jump out of the most naive viewer.
EXTRAS Six making-of docs, gag reel, deleted scenes. Widescreen. English, Spanish, French audio. English, Spanish subtitles.