I recently had a swarm of bees living in my front yard, so in those three months where I didn't leave the house, I became something of an expert on them.
For instance, queen bees lay unfertilized eggs that turn into drones, then mate with those drones to create worker bees. Do you have any idea what kind of inbreeding that leads to? Me neither, but I'm still cleaning bee-sized Confederate flags from the yard. One of the effects, though, is an incredibly low amount of genetic diversity within a colony -- meaning if one bee catches a disease or parasite out on her pollen-gathering wandering, then brings it back to the nest, there's a good chance the rest of them are going to be vulnerable to it, too. Voila! The whole hive collapses.
Huzzah! Science solves another mystery! Unless, like writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, you just want to use it as a jumping-off point for a spooky movie like The Happening, in which case it's treated like an incomprehensible event beyond our pathetic human understanding.
In The Happening, New York is under attack: starting in Central Park, people are stopping in their tracks, dazed, then killing themselves. It's pandemic, some kind of airborne toxin.
In Philly, schoolteacher Mark Wahlberg and wife Zooey Deschanel hop on a train just before the attack hits their city, too. Soon, the train stops -- the toxin's spreading throughout cities of the Northeast.
Left without transportation, Wahlberg and Deschanel hitch a ride with a gardener who's got a theory: the plants are behind it. Plants can communicate, release chemicals to kill bugs and animals they view as a threat. Wahlberg and company's only chance, then, is to head to the middle of nowhere, where the toxin hasn't hit, and wait it out.
If it's too much to ask that a movie be good, the most you can hope for is that it's as crazy, dumb, unbelievable -- and occasionally skillful -- as The Happening. I'm not a registered Shyamalan hater, but if an anti-him riot started up, I wouldn't be above throwing a brick through a Blockbuster window hoping to hit a copy of Lady in the Water. So let's get this out of the way: he doesn't totally suck. He's good at building suspense and great at framing shots. The Happening does have a number of effective moments, especially in the jarringly matter-of-fact suicides peppered through the film.
When it comes to the writing, it's a lot less effective, starting with the story and ending with the dialogue. The dialogue! If there are any robots reading this, I'd advise you to power down now because the following paradox will blow your circuits like a toaster in a bathtub. Deschanel's character is supposed to be an introvert, someone uncomfortable expressing herself, right? Yet here's one of her lines: "We're so much alike! I don't like to show my emotions either!"
Is that right? Because if that's true, then I have a hard time believing you'd just come right out and say -- oh my god, I think SkyNet just exploded. Well, like Aristophanes said, when you can't figure out how to show how your characters feel, just have them blurt it out.
Wahlberg and Tyler do what they can -- and there are a few intentionally funny lines mixed in with all the hamfisted exposition and half-baked ideas -- but there's only so much you can bring to the material.
As for the story -- man. I can't decide whether killer trees is a legitimate plot device or so stupendously silly it's beyond attack. Whatever the case, it was fun, which is more than can be said for The Happening's fizzle-out ending or nonstop parade of insane side characters. Really, the whole movie's a heaping pile of contradiction: a funny line followed by something unutterably stupid, a creepy suicide paired up with an old lady so crazy it's just confusing.
Overall, the army of failure vastly outnumbers the forces of success. You could easily hate The Happening. For me, though, when the awfulness carried the day, it was with more of a cheery drunken party mood than with that angry, itchy feeling that I just wasted more of my short life watching a crummy movie. I wouldn't say I liked The Happening, but I did enjoy it.