The Happening (2008)

DVD Cover (Twentieth Century Fox)
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Ranked #771
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Out of the blue, a sheer number of unprecedented and utterly unexplained incidents begin to threaten humanity, as a seemingly unstoppable and invisible menace alters the human behavior beyond reason. Before this mind-boggling extreme situation, the high school science teacher and family man, Elliot Moore, along with his wife, Alma, try to comprehend the origin of the disaster--as everyone, including friends and neighbors--flee the contaminated area, heading to the safety of the unknown. But could these sudden and uncanny attacks stem from an unforeseen but intimate source? In the end, how can one fight back against an intangible adversary? --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: June 16, 2008
Walking into the theatre to see "The Happening", I had yet to hear a single positive review of the film from any of my friends. Most major critics loathed it, and Roger Ebert was really the only one to give it even a mildly favorable review. It had seemed that M. Night Shyamalan had lost it, right? Well, take into consideration a couple of things: (01) I thought "Lady in the Water" was brilliant and highly underrated; and (02) "The Sixth Sense" is my least favorite Shyamalan film and I even thought "The Village" was creative and entertaining. So, I love M. Night Shyamalan. I have always considered him to be a hybrid of Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock. He borrows a lot from both styles and blends them together in 'non-traditional' horror films. "The Happening" happens to be Shyamalan's first R-rated motion picture, which is what has been used on the trailer as a very special selling point. That really meant nothing to me. What made "Signs" and "The Village" work so well was that they were still frightening and didn't have the R-rating. But, I suppose he was just tired of toning down the material to suit the MPAA. I walked into "The Happening" expecting to hate it...to loathe it...to call for its death. That's what everyone had led me to believe. However, I did not. I thoroughly enjoyed "The Happening". It was one of the most entertaining times I have had at the movies all year long. Honestly, I don't think people understand it at all.

The films opens in Central Park in New York. It's a beautiful day. Suddenly, without warning, there is a loud scream. People stop dead in their tracks; some even start walking backwards. Then, they all start to kill themselves. All over New York City, people start killing themselves. Science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is with his students when he hears the news and he rushes home on the spot to his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel). Along with their friend, Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), they hop a train and head for Philadelphia. They soon learn, however, that the entire Northeastern section of the United States has been affected. At first, they all think it's a terrorist attack. But, soon, they realize the threat is actually biological. That's right, the plants and trees have started feeling threatened by humanity and have started unleashing toxins that cause human beings to lose their minds and, eventually, kill themselves. The film follows Elliot and his group as they travel across the Pennsylvania countryside, looking for a way out. Eventually, they end up on the doorstep of Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley), who offers them supper and a place to stay for the night, though this kindly old lady isn't really as kind as she seems. No big twist at the end like Shyamalan's other work. More like an environmentally friendly picture.

Like I mentioned before - I don't think people understand this film. Does anyone really think the same man who directed "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs" would write and direct something this cheesy without it being 100% intentional? Shyamalan set out to make a cheesy B-movie, in the tradition of "Soylent Green" or "The Stuff", and that's just what he did. The writing is over-the-top and just plain hysterical, at times. Why? Because that's the way he wrote it. This wasn't an accident. This film wasn't "The Wicker Man". "The Happening" takes two very eccentric and very awkward lead characters and shows how they react in an equally eccentric and awkward situation. It presents them with an assortment of colorful supporting characters and shows how they react within those springs of activity. Director M. Night Shyamalan has gone out of his way to make the most insanely cheesy 'earth versus man' picture I have seen in a long time. It reminded me of "Maximum Overdrive" in the way it shows human beings continually run down or destroyed by nature, though in this film nature is actually nature and doesn't come in the form of a machine. "The Happening" even pokes fun at its title throughout the picture, with characters asking, "Where is the happening happening?" Do people really think that was unintentional and that Shyamalan is just that bad?

As far as performances, the biggest critique of the film I heard was that the acting was dreadful. We must have been deriving different things from the performances. I am not a Mark Wahlberg fan at all in films. Never have been. That said, I think he did a fine job. Sure, he's a little awkward and a little wooden - but that's his character. He's a dorky, odd little science teacher who is trying to look cool to his students and cool to anyone who watch. Zooey Deschanel is another eccentric and very bizarre character, but that's her character. There is a hysterical exchange between the two in a field as Wahlberg's character tries to get back at Deschanel's for a dessert date she had. He explains what happened to him at the local pharmacy and the whole exchange climaxes with a tearful Zooey Deschanel muttering 'thank you'. There is another amazingly entertaining sequence involving a farmer, his greenhouse and hot dogs. Shyamalan wrote this dialog this way for a reason, and I found it highly affective and very entertaining. My favorite sequence is at the old lady's house when Mark Wahlberg wakes up to voices and wind and an empty kitchen. Just watch how each and every single character is over-the-top in some way. Then you start to realize Shyamalan's approach.

In short, I don't give a damn what everyone is saying. "The Happening" is a highly entertaining picture and the most fun I've had at the movies all year long. People don't give M. Night Shyamalan nearly as much credit as they should. He's always trying different things and different approaches, even though he relied on the crutch of the twist ending for a long time. He's very creative and he also tries to make films with a conscience and a soul. You can say that "The Happening" is a stern warning about what man is doing to the environment, and it is. But, that's not all it is. It's about two very likable and very 'out there' people coming to terms with a situation that is even more bizarre and even more 'out there' than they are. And, at the very least, you get to see scene after bloody scene of people getting mauled and hacked and splatted. It's nice. It's nice to see what Shyamalan can do when he doesn't have the MPAA to worry about. I suspect "The Happening" will attract a cult following over the years and turn out to be one of Shyamalan's most appreciated. It's not in the same league as "Signs" or "Unbreakable", but it's not supposed to be. Shyamalan sat out to make a certain type of film, and he succeeded. Personally, I thank him for the ride.

Tristan #1: Tristan - added 09/15/2008, 01:29 AM
It could have been a lot better if it wasn't so goddamn boring. More than once I found myself checking the run time, hoping it was almost over. He had a few hits, but overall M. Night Shyamalan's movies are garbage now.

George Snow #2: George Snow - added 10/17/2008, 09:43 AM
This was one of those movies that was so bad it was enjoyable. Wahlburg trying to act like he has a brain, everyone else just trying to act. The death scenes were hilarious, as was most of the dialogue, and you'd figure after 9/11 everyone would have reference to how people act during a crisis. My favorite was the construction workers at the beginning. Wow, this was bad.
Chad #3: Chad - added 10/19/2008, 07:20 AM
I liked this movie for one simple reason: it makes you think. Wait, what? It's a simple storyline.... plants release toxins, people get these toxins in their system, they kill themselves... simple, right? Well, I think that if you really look at the storyline, you'll see that there's more to it; in fact, I don't think that the plants were entirely responsible. I think they played a part in the grand scheme of things (I can't come up with an explanation for why it started in the first place and there was mention of trace amounts of toxins being found), but I think this film focused more on mass hysteria and the way that people respond to these situations.

Remember the line around the beginning of the film? "Science will come up with an answer to put in the books, but nobody will ever really know what happened."

The model home, a clue that "not everything is as it seems." You think that this scene was thrown in for no good reason?

It's only happening in the northeast... because this is what television / the internet / news reporters are telling us, and thus, people in the northeast are much more prone to this hysteria, while people in other parts of the country believe that "well, it's not happening here, so...."

The old lady who was completely removed from society was sitting outside, surrounded by greenery, inhaling the toxins for what I would assume to be a fair chunk of time... yet, she was completely unaffected until - wait for it - Marky Mark told her about the shit that was going down in the city.

Ironically enough, I think that people are hearing "OMG ITZ TEH PLANTZ!!!", sitting down to watch this, taking that statement at face value, and ignoring the numerous clues that point out that there's much more to the story. So, I wouldn't call it a perfect film, but I would call it an underrated one. 8/10.
Edd #4: Edd - added 10/19/2008, 09:47 AM
Further proof that the Illuminati is trying to set up a "QUARANTINE AND KILL" scenario in the real world.
George Snow #5: George Snow - added 10/19/2008, 03:08 PM
I understood it perfectly. The real turn around scene was the old nasty loner who died and then Wahlburg and DeSchenel remembering why they loved each other and they didn't die. It all had to do with emotions, hence the ridiculous MOOD RING.

I've said this a million times (literally to scripts I've reviewed): Every premise for a movie can work, it's storytelling. Some are better then others. There's an infinite ways to tell the same story. It's HOW you show and tell the story that matters. It's the difference between a good movie and an awful one.

M Night had a great premise and showed it to us in awful fashion, starting with Wahlburg cast as a teacher. Thenc ame the awful, blunt dialogue hitting you over the head. When you have dialogue so bad, the actors don't have anything to work with. There's very little true emotion, because the emotion is written into the phony dialogue.

I honestly knew nothing about this movie going in. I don't read reviews, and since Zooey was in this, I didn't need to read the box (I'll watch anything with her). Yet, when the good looking kid gave the answer, and Wahlburg agreed, I knew the ending. That's piss poor storytelling.

If you watch the special features there's one called "Elements of a Scene". The pains they went through to get this one shot is absolutely incredible (and thoroughly not worth it). Had they put as much effort into script and performances, the movie could have been a blockbuster success.
Rik #6: Rik - added 02/01/2009, 07:48 AM
M. Night mentioned that he set out to make a B-Grade 'horror' movie.

With that in mind, I watched it and I could not stop giggling at how true his statement was. It wasn't made in defence because it bombed... he really meant it. The shots, the acting, the trite and idiotic dialogue... Especially the shots. He just wanted to have fun with this movie. The only difference between this and an actual B-Grade movie is the budget and his name on it.
Ginose #7: Ginose - added 02/01/2009, 09:33 PM
Yes, and that budget, in the hands of a good B-movie director, could have made a bad movie good. with Shyamalan it just made a shitty movie pretentious. Like it knew what it was trying to be but still didn't want to work towards that.
Aside from a few nice gores the film was an epic fucking waste of time... Shyamalan shouldn't have tried it. His abilities are so refined that he can direct any type of movie, but I'm sure he doesn't notice this.

Greg Follender #8: Greg Follender - added 06/10/2009, 07:29 PM
A typical case of style over substance... an over-directed and pretentious pile of drek.

From the opening shot on, no one can debate that the film was well framed and shot... but almost no one i know can excuse the horrendous dialogue and plodding pacing. Whatever Shyamalan said he "intended"... what he delivered was a bland, uninteresting piece of predictable schlock that nearly put me to sleep before the end of the second reel.

The films he claims to homage in this film are tightly paced, tense, and deliver at least a mild visceral thrill upon their conclusion... none of these aspects were present in the tepid snooze-festival he presents us with in this film. The man has really lost his touch... or at least lost touch with the muse that once guided his cinematic vision.

Perhaps he's simply surrounded by one too many back-slapping sycophants to direct clearly anymore...

4/10... 5/10 if you dig on unintentionally comedic dialogue.
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