The Happening

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo

Lets begin by addressing M. Night Shyamalan’s career. I don’t really understand all the hate. Yes, he has made two bad movies in a row (Two!! That’s twice as many as one!). This was all the more disappointing because he made 3 great movies previous to the duds. I just don’t get how people can lose faith so quickly. What’s more perplexing is The Happening is, according to Rotten, his worst received film yet. Maybe, I’m missing something. I just call ’em as I see ’em, and what I see is a brilliant, original film maker who has done more good than bad with his art. Perhaps The Sixth Sense attracted too much attention. Perhaps there would be less hate if he had a smaller following. In an odd way, his movies are small and quiet. Rare is action or any Hollywood influence a part of his projects. Shyamalan makes movies about supernatural happenings, and it’s effect on real people. Usually he focuses on his characters above all else. This is not the case here, yes there is character development abound, but the “world event” occurring is what’s important.

One morning in Central Park, NY, people abruptly halt and begin to commit suicide. The bizarre epidemic spreads throughout the north-eastern states. When Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg, unconvincing as a school teacher) gets word of this, he gets his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and his friend/colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) who has a daughter named Jess, and they skip town via train. The train stops in the middle of nowhere, and hope of survival becomes less and less possible.

One surprise is that there’s no surprise. There’s no trademark twist here. Shyamalan could have kept what’s killing everyone a secret until the end. It would have been a larger shock, but knowing early on benefits the experience. We are able to dwell on what’s happening, yes indeed, The Happening is thought-provoking. Message aside, the film truly excels at creating suspense and occasional terror. Beginning with the stellar opening credits, a suspenseful mood is created. It is sustained until even after the movie ends. Seeing people needlessly take their own lives is everything it should be; saddening, horrifying, and disturbing. It’s smart, it’s scary, and best of all it’s plausible within the real world. The Happening is terrific entertainment.

The acting is a bit strange. Both Wahlberg and Deschanel seem a bit stiff, and their delivery is occasionally silly. It’s so obvious that I find it impossible to believe they didn’t notice this during filming. To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me. In fact, in the case of Wahlberg, I find it appealing. The supporting cast is very solid, especially all the strangers our heroes run into.

The Happening has a strong start, a strong middle and a strong conclusion with scares along the way. James Newton Howard’s score is great, and really sets the tone. The acting is questionable, but it’s not too damaging. M. Night Shyamalan has had a rough streak, but it ends here. He has written and directed a thoughtful and spectacular suspense picture that also manages to be a powerful parable. Highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “The Happening”

  1. Agreed, but the ending does have a sort of twist to it. You never really know what is causing the neurotoxin to be released into the atmosphere until the last frame. Everything mentioned before hand (terrorist, government, ect.) are just theories and the truth is revealed in the final act. I really enjoyed it and wanted to give it 4/5 stars like you, but the acting and blasé characters made me change my mind. A sturdy 3.5 star rating for me. Good review, I agree almost completely.

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