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Movie Review: The Happening
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The HappeningThe Happening
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschannel, John Lequizamo
Rated R
Release date: June 13, 2008

While nothing bares resemblance to M. Night Shyamalan‘s previous morbid and dull thriller Lady in the Water, The Happening forgoes that film and all of the director’s previous films to focus under a microscope a topic that relies relatively on nothing, an invisible antagonist, but on the contrary a topic that resonates deep into our world’s given situation. The result is a slow-building suspense film that binds reality and imagination in ways only a bedtime storyteller can conjure up.

And that is exactly what The Happening is: a surreal dream (at 90 minutes it stalls a tiny bit along the way). The way that Shyamalan captures the action of everyday people on the East Coast frantically fleeing from an unknown evil is pure B-movie bliss.

The expressions on the characters’ faces, the characters themselves, and the feel of the movie can be regarded as a “campy” film that provides a good laugh when the occasion calls for severe seriousness. Even at times you might say the actors are acting poorly. But remember these people fleeing aren’t all superheroes or warriors; they are your “everyday” people and act as we would act in their given situation. Each character that meets each other along the way is someone you could possibly meet in real life. The casting is spot on (that hot dog guy sure is a hoot).

Above all, The Happening thrives on the opportunity to excavate a commentary on our world out of a silly yet fascinating plot. The focus is on the death of man and the endless scenarios that add fuel to that fire. In Central Park an incident occurs that involves people stopping dead in their tracks, losing their train of thought, walking backwards, and mumbling phrases over and over again. Then they come to just kill themselves. In a haunting scene, construction workers free fall from the top of a building plummeting to the ground with the sounds that make you cringe. Police officers kill themselves with their own pistols and those same pistols are picked up by pedestrians to kill themselves as well. An assortment of unsettling sites come by the boatloads such as dead men hanging from trees and a man settling himself underneath a tractor. At first this is all labeled a “terrorist attack” and New York City is then evacuated.

Shyamalan targets a society whose main attribute is panic, and only panic. Our hero is a Philadelphia school teacher, Elliot Moore, played totally out of the ‘tough guy’ character that Mark Wahlberg is known for playing. Elliot is a man trying to deal with his wife Alma’s (Zooey Deschannel) trust, constantly reassuring his friend Julian (John Lequizamo) that his wife is safe and Julian’s daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) that her mom is safe. It turns out that he is, along with everyone else, a citizen living in a state of panic just trying really hard to conceal it. All of them are on a train, with others who have no clue what is going on, heading for Pennsylvania but their ride comes to a halt when the bizarre evil might be ahead of them and everyone is left stunned because they have no clue what they’re fleeing from.

Maybe the entire East Coast panics because of the infinite number of power plants that puff out black rings of smoke or the fact that we are quick to point the finger at the terrorist attacks that transpired on 9/11, which we still aren’t able to shake. Then there is the issue of blaming everything that happens on the government or heck, even saying “the president planned these attacks.” Each one of these issues are exploited and while Shyamalan never really sides with a certain one, he makes us feel that it can be everything.

This may not be the conventional summer film people are looking for, but it does contain the most indestructible villain of this summer and the anecdote to heavily drenched CGI films. The landscape, which is captured so beautifully by Shyamalan, is a character in and of itself as our characters try to escape its sterile, barren, and windswept surroundings. The scares and chills come in these terms and the terms of the camera panning closely to a character’s blank expression and how people effected with the evil are drawn to just kill themselves. It’s almost as if the victims are saying “I’m fed up with the world and I’m not going to take it anymore!” The world may just be saying the same thing. This may be Shyamalan’s only movie that can in fact happen. The Happening doesn’t make you ask the question Can this happen, but rather, When is this going to happen?

*** of ****


  1. This is a good review.
    I could not get into this film at all though.

    Comment by Jerry — June 16, 2008 @ 11:48 am

  2. The problem with this movie being “pure B-movie bliss,” as you call it, is that it wasn’t intended to be a B-movie. It’s supposed to be good. This was supposed to be the scary movie of the summer, a break from all the superhero movies. Instead it was one huge disappointment.

    Comment by Christine — June 16, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

  3. I thought this move slow, boring like a bad TV movie. Most of the actually interesting scenes were already shown in TV commercial. I wanted to leave but my girlfiend said wait maybe there will be a surprise or it might get interesting. Wrong, she admited this movie was a waste of our money, I wanted to see The Hulk.

    Comment by jim158 — June 17, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

  4. You know, when I left the theater I was disappointed, but then this strange thing began to happen. The more I talked about it with other people, the more I started to like it and the more it creeped me out. Thing is, this movie was so unlike his other movies that it was disappointing to not have a twist or more intense character development (and I do have to say that I absolutely loved “The Lady in the Water”. I don’t care what anyone else says about it!). But it’s true to form in terms of true-life. The panic isn’t embellished or over-done in any way. The close-up’s are fantastic and the silly lines are fabulous. What’s creepy is the unknown origin of the event and that it really could take place and actually makes a lot of sense. This movie is growing on me by the minute, much like how the event cascaded over the course of 24 hours.

    Comment by soma — June 17, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

  5. Actually, Christine, it WAS supposed to be a B-movie; Shymalan said so: http:///

    It’s still absolutely fucking terrible, however, and I think the reviewer has no concept of what the word “suspense” means. People randomly starting to kill themselves is not suspense.Mark Wahlberg comes off as a wet noodle who doesn’t do one goddamn thing throughout the movie to merit his being the protagonist. Not one. Goddamn. Thing.

    The movie starts, the movie stops, and there is nothing interesting in the middle. Utter garbage.

    Comment by Gordon — June 17, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

  6. the film was called the happening, but nothing good happened. as a matter of fact nothing at all happened. a waste of time and cash.

    Comment by matthew — June 25, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

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