Movie Review for The Happening (2008)

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Review #651 of 365
Movie Review of The Happening (2008) [R] 91 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.25
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When Seen: 14 June 2008
Time: 5:00 pm
DVD Release Date: 7 October 2008 (click date to purchase or pre-order)
After the Credits: There is nothing after the credits.
Film's Official WebsiteFilm's Trailer

Soundtrack: Download now from James Newton Howard - The Happening - or - order the CD below

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (Lady in the Water)
Screenplay by: M. Night Shyamalan (Lady in the Water)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Mark Wahlberg (We Own the Night) • Zooey Deschanel (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford ) • John Leguizamo (Love in the Time of Cholera) • Ashlyn Sanchez ("Without a Trace") • Betty Buckley ("Law & Order: SVU") • Spencer Breslin (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause) • Robert Bailey Jr (What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole) • Frank Collison ("My Name is Earl") • Jeremy Strong (Humboldt County) • Alan Ruck ("Greek") • Victoria Clark ("Law & Order: SVU")

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Click to see photos or video coverage from the Premiere of The Happening
Click to read the spoiler points for The Happening
What to do if your very first commercial film wins the Academy Award® for best picture and you churn out 4 more films that not only fail to top your first film, but they receive decidedly negative criticism ultimately earning you the label of a has been before you've ever sort of really been? Well, you could take a really long vacation, you could retire altogether, you could quickly change your name and try again, or you could do what M. Night Shyamalan has done and that is stay absolutely true to your own artistic and aesthetic vision capitalizing on your fame to keep on going forward. He may never again see the acclaim he garnered during The Sixth Sense glory period, but that need not stop him from making outstanding films unlike anything people have seen before. Of course, given that he debuted in the genre of suspense / thriller films with a twist and The Sixth Sense has just about the best twist ever conceived, not just in film, but EVER, simply filling his own shoes has been a very worthy task indeed. Arguably, only The Village has even gotten close to the same level of twistyness. Alternatively, this may also be because Mr. Shyamalan's films have gotten more artful and mysterious when it comes to comprehending what they are really about. The best example of this was his Lady in the Waterwhich was labeled "twistless" by many when, in fact it had a brilliant twist that quite simply wasn't accessible to people without a more global and systems approach to their thinking. Thus is also the case with The Happening.

On the surface, this downbeat film looks part warning bell, part wake-up call, and part Stephen King-style horror epic; but whether people will be able to believe it as intentional or not, The Happening is much more than it reveals on the surface or even a layer down. Moreover, it's high school science teacher leading man played in an understated fashion by Mark Wahlberg, now the second Wahlberg brother to appear in a Shyamalan film as his brother Donnie's acting career virtually began with his scary and nearly unrecognizable portrayal of Vincent Grey in The Sixth Sense, is one that is going to rub a lot of critics and fans the wrong way. He's stubbornly over-eager throughout spewing scientific truisms like a Zen Buddhist monk trapped with the others on "LOST". But, to truly see what's going on here, you've got to be more globally informed and, perhaps, be a former high school science teacher or play one on TV or read the spoiler. The story takes off almost immediately planting clues for Wahlberg's Elliot Moore.

…a foreboding yet somewhat silent masterpiece…
He's in class when he gets word that the Principal (Alan Ruck) is canceling school and sending everyone home due to what logically appears to be a biological weapons attack on Central Park. Of course, we see what Elliot does not, we see the eerie and strange symptoms of what obviously cannot simply be explained away as a terrorist attack at all that of people losing their train of thought, freezing where they are, slowly starting to walk backwards, and then killing themselves by whatever means seems most expedient. As the news of the apparent bio-toxic attack spreads, New York City is placed on a partial quarantine and those who seem as yet unaffected intend to evacuate. For the most part, the city is strangely calm. There's no panic like was witnessed in Will Smith's I Am Legend. Hence, Elliot Moore, his strangely acting wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), Elliot's teaching colleague, math teacher Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian's daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), all hop on a train headed for safe haven in Pennsylvania. Jess's mom, doesn't make it because she's trying desperately to buy a special doll house she wants for Jess's birthday which apparently ranks higher on her list than getting out of a city that whether just attacked by a lethal bio weapon or victimized by some strange, inexplicable natural phenomenon, she's apparently not just ready to leave.

As the train heads east, news comes in from various cell phones that what ever is happening, it seems limited to highly populated areas in New England and has caused a mass genocide—actual life tolls are never revealed. But, midway along the route, the train stops when the engineers lose all contact with the outside world. They up and abandon the passengers in the middle of nowhere. After getting food, and discovering the area they are is no less likely to be affected by toxins carried on the wind, the decide to get out of town splitting up by who has access to transportation. Having lost contact with his wife, Julian leaves Jess in the care of Alma and Elliot, and decides to try to head to her last known location in Princeton, NJ. Meanwhile, Alma, Elliot, and Jess hitch a ride with a nursery owner (Frank Collison) and his wife (Victoria Clark), who claim to have plenty of food and the desire to get out as well. On the way, the nursery owner mentions he thinks that what's happening has to do with the plants. He claims we don't give them enough credit and they can communicate, evolve, and manufacture just about anything they might ever want or need. Elliot is skeptical, but listens intently. He wants to solve the mystery of what's going. The rest of the film, which mostly follows their next 12 hours or so, is how they survive, Elliot trying to get to the bottom of what's happening, and the rest of the nations' semi-oblivious reaction. The mastery of what's really going on in this film provides not only a gut-wrenching look at the evolution of our inhumanity as a culture and our preoccupation with ourselves vs. that of our fellow man let alone our shared planet, but also a premonition on our future. Betty Buckley, the mom from "Eight is Enough" if you are old enough to know or care, turns in a stayed and almost wicked performance as Mrs. Jones, a hermit who grows her own food and has lost all touch with the outside world, who becomes at once their refuge and their worst nightmare, puts the final touches on this devastating portrayal of the proverbial world in "what this world has come to."

…a gut-wrenching look at the evolution of our inhumanity as a culture and our preoccupation with ourselves vs. that of our fellow man let alone our shared planet…
M. Night Shyamalan has created a foreboding yet somewhat silent masterpiece that, if we survive in the long run on this planet as a species, our descendants ten generations down the road might watch with certain astonishment. The twist wouldn't be lost on them in the least, for again, it requires a different perception of our reality to grasp, one they would likely comprehend to have survived so far into what, to many in the known, looks like a grim future. With greater degrees of both dark and bent humor from some unfamiliar territory, along with the most shocking and blatant acts of self-destruction maybe ever assembled into one film before, there's little to enjoy on the surface of this film. And, in fact, there's probably little more than the gratification of acknowledgement the film should bring to those who see where he's gone with this story and maybe why, to appease even those people as if to say, "You're on to something, don't give up." Ironically, the story seems to suggest, perhaps, that if you focus on your own urgent survival instincts, the rest of the world just might leave you alone as if to say, as counter-intuitive as it might seem to people who actually get it, the tide against you is too great and the only way to survive is to do it alone.

…presents a landscape which is not something the vast masses want to hear or think about…
Most people probably won't want to hear this message. Most people won't actually enjoy this film. The Happening presents a landscape which is not something the vast masses want to hear or think about; and in, perhaps, the most frightening aspect of the film, the entire story is so completely plausible as to almost make one wonder why it hasn't happened already.

Still Photo Gallery for The Happening (2008)

(all images used with permission for press reproduction)

Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, and Ashlyn Sanchez

Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel

Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, Ashlyn Sanchez, and John Leguizamo

Zooey Deschanel and Ashlyn Sanchez

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Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring The Happening (2008)
Cast Members
Mark WahlbergZooey DeschanelJohn Leguizamo
Ashlyn SanchezBetty BuckleySpencer Breslin
Robert Bailey JrFrank CollisonJeremy Strong
Alan Ruck
M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan
CD Soundtrack

Review-lite The Happening (2008) [max of 150 words]
A silent masterpiece with decidedly important twist, The Happening is not for everyone. It's dark and mysterious but provides one possible glimpse into the near future. Take the time to read the spoiler which speculates as to the twist (spelling out one possible interpretation) for those not well versed in systems thinking and the hive mind. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel give odd but funny performances in this film that is to be seen and digested not just filed away for future reference which, unfortunately, is the likely outcome as M. Night Shyamalan's film will likely not live up to scrutiny by ardent fans sill hungering for a Sixth Sense like twist. This twist is simply too deep for the masses.

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