The good news is that, following “The Village,” writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s films have been improving.  The bad news is that at his
current rate it will take about three more films for him to regain his top form.

“The Happening” is his latest, and it is a much more ‘Shyamalan’ film than “Lady in the Water” was.

As I’m sure you’ve seen in the promos, “The Happening” revolves around a mysterious airborne attack that causes people to begin killing
themselves.

The concept proves to be a good one as Shyamalan delivers a few genuinely creepy and ominous sequences early on.

It’s amazing how many different ways people can come up with to kill themselves.  The ingenuity of man!

Shyamalan really captures the sense of dread that these films need in their setup.  Maybe it isn’t as strong as Spielberg’s phenomenal first
act to “War of the Worlds,” but it works well.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many disaster flicks, the setup is almost always better than the pay off.  “The Happening” is no different.

Around the halfway point the film begins to spin its wheels a bit and eventually limps its way to an unimpressive finish.

After the initial shock and horror of the events transpiring, the films shifts gears to develop its characters and to (somewhat) explain what’s
going on.  Neither is up to the challenge.

Part of the blame has to go on the miscast Mark Wahlberg and an awkward Zooey Deschanel.  Wahlberg is earnest enough, but is forced as
a school teacher just trying to survive.

Deschanel on the other hand is so distant that we really don’t know anything about her.

The film does get a nice supporting performance from John Leguizamo, though.  I wish there was more of him.

As the film moves on and we learn a bit more about what the heck is happening, things become a bit too familiar.  A strange sequence
where the survivors try to outrun the wind will undoubtedly remind viewers of a similar idiotic sequence in “The Day After Tomorrow.”  And
when we wind up in a creepy farmhouse with a complete nut job, we can’t help but think “War of the Worlds.”

The second half of this film is very hit or miss, and it’s a shame because what comes before is actually quite good.

One of the consistent contributors is composer James Newton Howard however, who delivers a solid and suspenseful score.  It isn’t nearly
as memorable as his previous work on Shyamalan’s films, but it still has very good presence in the film.

With “The Happening,” Shyamalan definitely shows that he still has a lot of potential, but, much like this film, it isn’t being fully realized.  
“The Happening” isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t good either.

* *
(out of four)
THE HAPPENING
Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John
Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Betty Buckley, Spencer
Breslin, Robert Bailey Jr.

Cinematography by: Tak Fujimoto

Music by: James Newton Howard

Released: June 13, 2008; 91 Minutes