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The Happening

The Happening
(M. Night Shyamalan, 2008)

Set in the Northeastern United States, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening tells the grisly story of human survival once the plants of the Earth themselves develop mechanisms of defense against people, releasing deadly toxins into the air that cause every person who breathes it in to kill themselves. Like all of Shyamalan’s films, The Happening has a slow-moving—yet suspenseful—atmospheric feel to it that gives its tension a lasting effect, and although this unique style of filmmaking didn’t work with me for some of his earlier films (The Village and Lady in the Water), it does work well here as it did in my favorites of his, Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense.

This tale of “What if the plants fought back” is chilling on a primal level, seemingly silly at first, but the film is well-executed and tells its story in a way that compels the audience, providing suspenseful sequences throughout that almost always leads to a disturbing scene (or two) of grim horror that I find relentlessly pleasurable to watch. The deaths, from people walking into lion cages at zoos, provoking the vicious beasts to attack, to laying down in front of riding lawnmowers are fresh, albeit a bit over-the-top and unrealistic-looking at times.

The Happening’s most noteworthy, memorable component doesn’t lie in the compelling story or in Shyamalan’s unique style of filmmaking, though, but rather in the cast. Mark Wahlberg (Renaissance Man), Zooey Deschanel (Bridge to Terabithia), and John Leguizamo (The Babysitters) make up the front lines, all of whom I find to be particularly good at what they do. Mark Wahlberg gives the film’s protagonist, Elliot, that wittingly charming personality yet that tough, threatening-when-needed exterior he always brings to his characters on-screen, and although this isn’t her best performance, Zooey Deschanel as Alma, Elliot’s troubled wife, is sweet and radiates an aura of total goo-goo-eyed innocence. John Leguizamo plays Elliot’s caring friend, displaying a personality that you can’t help but become at least somewhat emotionally attached to.

Not the film’s entire cast is as exceptional as these three stars, however; I didn’t care much for Betty Buckley or the character which she plays (the old woman hermit); I feel that she detracted from the story and could have somehow been left out of the movie entirely. Certain actors playing bystanders or insignificant onlookers to the film’s graphic events irritated me as well, sometimes stating a very unconvincing “My God” that nearly spoiled the action at times for me, but I remained focused and gradually pressed on.

Overall, I found The Happening to be a compelling suspense-horror with a fantastic cast, yet containing an undesirable number of unconvincing and/or unrealistic moments throughout, dotting its otherwise engrossing, atmospheric progression. That said, many of its all-too-numerous, dismally poor reviews (not to mention the IMDB’s current rating of 5.2/10) fail to do it justice and, in short, contrary to all that, I find it to be a good film.