In the Hollywood variation on a classic proverb, whom the gods would destroy they first make successful. So it's been for writer director M. Night Shyamalan, where the breakout success of The Sixth Sense first suggested he could do no wrong and then his later films suggested, in dribs and drabs, that he in fact could. The minor missteps in the otherwise-watchable Unbreakable, Signs and The Village were one thing; eventually, Shyamalan's status as a unquestionable talent culminated in Lady in the Water, a textbook example of what can happen when a filmmaker becomes so used to proceeding without supervision that they go right off the steep cliffs of self-indulgence with a full head of steam.
However, it seemed that even M. Night knew this, and looked to be retrenching with The Happening, promising us R-rated chills and thrills and goosebumps. And after actually seeing The Happening, it has to be said that the film's a perfectly fine summertime chiller, one that avoids the excesses and errors in judgment that unmade Lady in the Water but also one without the vision and excellence of The Sixth Sense. It's not that The Happening is bad, as such -- although there are a few fairly off moments in it -- it's more that I found myself wishing, on more than one occasion, that Shyamalan could forget about plucking the audience's heartstrings and instead just keep going for the jugular. I wanted The Happening's tension at a higher pitch so that I wasn't puzzling over plot holes and questionable character decisions while actually sitting in the theater; The Happening simmers when you want it to boil, smolders when you want it to burn.