The Happening

The Happening
Released: 12 Jun 2008
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Rated: MA Strong violence
Running Time: 90 Minutes

We've Sensed It. We've Seen The Signs. Now... It's Happening.

It begins with no clear warning. It seems to come out of nowhere. In a matter of minutes, episodes of strange, chilling deaths that defy reason and boggle the mind in their shocking destructiveness, erupt in major American cities. What is causing this sudden, total breakdown of human behavior? Is it some kind of new terrorist attack, an experiment gone wrong, a diabolical toxic weapon, an out-of-control virus? Is it being transmitted by air, by water . . . how?

For Philadelphia high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) what matters most is finding a way to escape the mysterious and deadly phenomenon. Though he and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) are in the midst of a marital crisis, they hit the road, first by train, then by car, with Elliot's math teacher friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his 8 year-old daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), heading for the Pennsylvania farmlands where they hope they'll be out of reach of the grisly, ever-growing attacks. Yet it soon becomes clear that no one - and nowhere - is safe. This terrifying, invisible killer cannot be outrun. It is only when Elliot begins to discover the true nature of what is lurking out there - and just what has unleashed this force that threatens the future of humanity -- that he discovers a sliver of hope that his fragile family might be able to escape what is happening.

My Verdict:
Philadelphia teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is explaining to his high school science class about how some forces of nature are inexplicable and sometimes we just have to accept the unexplained. It is at this precise moment that something strange happens in New York where people are driven to suicide by an unseen force, which is surmised by the media to be a release of a toxin as a terrorist attack. Elliot's colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) invites Elliot and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) to join him and his family in the country to escape the toxin, which is infiltrating cities in the eastern states of America. Elliot agrees and the group travel by train until this unseen phenomenon forces them to abandon their journey and seek answers and reasons to outrun the toxin. It soon becomes clear that this will be a battle for survival.

The Happening begins promisingly - the random suicide of hordes of people who are driven by an unseen force that shows no signs of where it has come from and when it will stop. Unfortunately, this question is answered by an absurd explanation, even driving the main character Elliot to engage in a conversation with a quaking plastic plant inside a house. How Mark Wahlberg kept a straight face during that scene is remarkable.

Much of the movie is spent with Elliot and Alma struggling with their fractured relationship whilst trying to survive the fatal toxin and both Wahlberg and Deschanel try to make the best of roles. Their desperate attempt to survive is the main story with some sub-plots arising from characters they meet along their journey. The unseen force is presented as strong winds blowing through trees and fields and this makes a mockery of the strength of the human character to survive. Often, the only real suspense comes from the soundtrack that accompanies some scenes where the silence is broken by sudden loud music.

M. Night Shyamalan has written, produced and directed what potentially could have been a more suspenseful and intriguing thriller given his previous successes (The Sixth Sense, Signs), but for some reason he has held back with The Happening. Lacking any real tension and suspense, The Happening is very disappointing and audiences deserve better.

Rating : *

Christina Bruce


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