When released in 2008, “Phenomena” received a frosty reception and has since been considered one of M. Night Shyamalan’s worst films. An opinion shared by Mark Wahlberg, who made it known publicly.
Phenomena : nature revolts
After the failure of his fantastic tale The Water Maiden, M. Night Shyamalan returns in 2008 with the simple but deeply enticing concept of Phenomena. Considered then as the new master of suspense and twists in Hollywood, the filmmaker wishes with this film to distill the oppressive and paranoid atmosphere of classics like Invasion of the Grave Desecrators and The birds.
The feature film begins in Central Park, during a mundane day. But suddenly, onlookers are committing suicide. These inexplicable deaths then spread across New York City and then along the East Coast of the United States. As panic spreads across the country and media reports of a possible terrorist attack, residents of the affected areas fled en masse. Among them, the professor of natural sciences Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), who decides to leave Philadelphia with his companion Alma (Zooey Deschanel) as well as his colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) and Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), the latter’s daughter. Their efforts to find a safe place, however, are not sufficient in the face of the speed of propagation of the phenomena, which is akin to a violent warning from nature.
Betty Buckley, Jeremy Strong and Alan Ruck round out the cast of the disaster film. If he is far from achieving the successes of Sixth Sense and Signs, Phenomena collects 163.4 million dollars in global revenues, which allows it to repay its budget estimated between 48 and 60 million. The feature film meets with an icy critical reception, striking the start of a complicated period for its author, before his winning return to the cinema with The Visit and Split.
Doubtful Mark Wahlberg
When Phenomena released in 2008, Mark Wahlberg has just done several moth roles (Four brothers, The Departed) and determined vigilantes (Shooter, sniper, The Night is ours). The calm and rational character of Elliot Moore, whose love story is shattered, therefore marks a challenge for the actor. During the promotion, the actor ensures that this is one of the performances “the most difficult of his career”. He specifies, quoted by Allocine :
I like challenges, but it was by far the toughest that I have been asked! Night was convinced that I could be this innocent man, but I’m definitely not that innocent. (…) I had to study this character in depth.
And despite all his efforts, Mark Wahlberg does not have a very good memory of Phenomena. In 2010, during a press conference by Fighter, the star evokes according to Collider “a bad movie” of her career. At first refusing to reveal the title, he ended up releasing:
Phenomena. Mess. The film is what it is. Fuck, man, no but frankly, trees. Plants, what. Mess. At least no one can blame me for trying to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t a cop or a gangster.
It would not be Mark Wahlberg’s only course error, according to him. In 2017, while participating in a conference alongside a cardinal unveiled by the Chicago Tribune, the actor asks God for forgiveness for Boogie Nights by Paul Thomas Anderson, in which he plays a pornstar:
I hope God is a movie buff and knows how to forgive, because I have made some regrettable choices in the past. Boogie Nights is right at the top of the list.
Resentful M. Night Shyamalan
Interviewed in 2019 by Vulture during the promotion of Glass, M. Night Shyamalan looks back on the critical failure of Phenomena. He explains that he wanted to achieve a B series that doesn’t take itself seriously, like The Blob, but that he failed to share the humorous dimension to the spectators.
The filmmaker assures us that he doesn’t hold it against Mark Wahlberg for his tackle on the film:
Since that’s the only time this has happened to me, no. Truly not. It’s up to him. This is his interpretation of the film.