The Happening: Movie, DVD, Blu-ray Review

10/31/2009 Posted by Admin

Movie, DVD, Blu-ray Review

"The Happening"

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, 99 minutes, rated R.

From a provocative, purely scientific viewpoint, it isn’t a new concept to look at Earth as just a cell floating in the body of the universe. On it are its natural inhabitants--trees, foliage, water--all living in relative harmony with fauna, and all of which over time have been invaded by its greatest challenge, the virus that is human life itself.

As with any cell invaded by a pathogen whose actions actively are destroying it (in this case, either via over population, carbon emissions, environmental recklessness, or reality television shows such as “The Hills”), there’s the struggle to shake it off and defeat it so the cell itself can survive.

It’s this concept that’s at the core of M. Night Shyamalan's “The Happening,” which might not be a full return to form for the director of “The Sixth Sense,” but which certainly is a vast improvement over the long run of disappointments he’s delivered since: “Unbreakable,” “Signs,” “The Village” and “Lady in the Water.”

From the director’s own script, “The Happening” opens in New York City, where people in Central Park are behaving unusually.

First, confusion takes hold. Second, many stop in their tracks and look as if they’ve just been struck dumb by a brick. Third, and most brutal (this is Shyamalan’s first R-rated film, and he goes for the gore here), many others start taking their own lives in all sorts of creative ways--hair pins to the throat, lawn mowers mulching bodies, bullets to the head, plenty of people leaping off skyscrapers.

What gives? That’s for the movie to answer--no spoilers here. But where the film goes next can be explored.

In Philadelphia is Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), a high school science teacher who is addressing his students about the mysterious death of honey bees when word comes that New York City is being evacuated because of a potential terrorist threat. Has a gas been released into the atmosphere that’s making people take their own lives? In the wake of anthrax and 9/11, anything is possible, so fear blooms far and wide, particularly when the suicides start to ripple across the Northeast and then stretch into Philadelphia.

There, another mass exodus ensues, with Elliot and his estranged wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), fleeing via train with Elliot’s best friend (John Leguizamo) and his daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez). To say that all doesn’t go well is an understatement, particularly with self-induced death encroaching so rapidly, and especially when some members of this group come upon one disturbed lady in the woods (Betty Buckley, beautifully stealing her scenes).

When the weak dialogue isn’t working against the film, “The Happening” is spare, satisfying and suspenseful. Shyamalan moves through the film’s illogical plot points by steeping the production in B-movie nonsense, the lot of which is interlaced with only kernels of scientific truth. He’s having fun here, but he’s skilled enough to not show his hand; instead, he gives the genre a polish it often doesn’t have.

There also is the sense that he has removed himself from the movie. This isn’t the showy production we’ve come to expect from Shyamalan, nor should anyone be seeking one of his tired twists. Instead, this is a movie made by a talented director known first for creating one great movie, then for the string of flops that followed, and now this--a reason to believe that dismissing him would be a mistake.

Grade: B

View the trailer for "The Happening" here:

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  1. chipper said...

    I would be the first one in line to pat the writer/director on the back for a job well done. But this was just silly. Now, please realize, I'm not necessarily a logical person who demands things in black and white and in their respective order. No, instead I'm the kind of guy willing to suspend disbelief and very willing to throw myself down the rabbit hole and immerse myself into a whole other universe.

    The problem here is that the guy is trying too hard to make things suspenseful... We're supposedly to be scared of wind and trees but after a few more minutes of it, anyone's mind begins to wander and the whole thing comes across hokey at best. There are chasms of illogical moments that we as the viewers are asked to jump...Again and again.

    The main problem with this story is that it's been done before and in shorter, more inexpensive versions. I would also venture to say there are much better hour-long shows like DOCTOR WHO which actually make a better experience. This, like many critics have mentioned, is a stretched out Twilight Zone plot that has too many holes to properly justify giving it the star treatment of a movie all its own.

    And again, this is coming from a guy who WANTS M. Knight to succeed, because when he does, we all get the benefits.

    The only good thing that can be said is it's certainly a step up from Lady In The Water.

    Thanks for your time,