Considering this film is called 'The Happening'...well, not a lot happens.
I've stuck up for M. Night Shyamalan. I like his work (I've not seen Lady), and while it seems like the majority has had enough of his babble but I've still enjoed his films. Even I can't defend The Happening.
I really like the idea behind this film. The plot of the film is slight at best, but the concept is an interesting one and one I could certainly have enjoyed.
Visually, as well, this worked for me. It's difficult to make trees menacing, but I enjoyed how Shyamalan shot the greenery of the film in such a way that did provide an element of threat.
Having said that, there is pretty much no sense of threat in this film. I don't know if the marketing department of Fox got it all wrong in how they've promoted this film, but the film did not match the marketing. It's pretty obvious why this is.
The script is absolutely terrible and delivered with zero talent. The majority of the actors in this film should be ashamed of themselves. Mark Wahlberg, who impressed me mightily in The Departed, was just ridiclous; he was either acting like an eight year old or a simpleton - and I'm really not sure which. Zooey Deschanel should never work in film again EVER for the simply terrible performance she gives. The characters are so flat that any attempts at emotional content (of which there's lots) are just utterly pointless.
The best performances come from John Leguizamo - whose involvement in the film is far too brief, but probably for the best - and Betty Buckley, who appears in the most effective sequence of the film.
In the house with Mrs. Jones, alone, would have made a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Her character is the most subtley characterised of the entire film (which granted isn't saying much) and is more frightening than any other aspect of the film. The 20 minutes or so spent in her house is the most effective and genuinely good part of the film.
There are a few other decent jumps and scares in the film, but these are fleeting, and pretty much depends on the visual. Considering this is Shyamalan's first R-rated film, there is little gore. I actually admire Shyamalan for cutting away from the more grisly deaths, and yet sticking with what probably pushed the film into the higher rating (not to spoil but it involves kids). In a film that it's pretty much this dull, I think any additional gore would actually have made it worse and not more interesting.
A disappointment, then, that's for sure. I think it's time Shyamalan passed his ideas on to someone else and directed a script not his own.