Something in the air is turning normal people into self-destructive crazies prone to flinging themselves off buildings and blowing their brains out. That much, at least, can be shared about The Happening, a feature-length Twilight Zone episode in which a high school science teacher (Mark Wahlberg, constricted), his flighty wife (Zooey Deschanel of the big blue eyes), and an Innocent Little Girl in their care (Ashlyn Sanchez, nearly mute) face down an epidemic of death rampaging through the Northeast. Supposedly, the cause of the catastrophe is unknown — it might be the work of terrorists, a virus, a toxin in the air, or the legacy of nuclear malfeasance. In fact, it’s a cinch for any moviegoer familiar with the post-Sixth Sense oeuvre of writer-director M. Night Shyamalan to diagnose the situation as an advancing case of crippling Shyamalania.
Some sure symptoms: The movie demonstrates a smart movie geek’s obsession with the rhythms and gory details of horror storytelling, undermined by a pompous insistence on spiritual lessons of the tritest kind (don’t be mean to Mother Nature! Trust in love!). And the filmmaker has fun with the cinematic conventions of social paranoia (all his most interesting minor characters with unusual faces are surely doomed) but is a sucker for overacting among his major players. I don’t know what thespian virus is eating Betty Buckley as an ornery country loner, but I hope it’s not contagious. C