Review: ‘The Happening’

Alright, I get it. We’re killing the planet. I’ve replaced my old-school light bulbs with the eco-friendly ones, I carpool whenever I can, I (re)use my reusable water bottle and I started using paper bags instead of plastic at the grocery store (at least paper, while killing trees, is biodegradable). If The Day After Tomorrow taught me anything, it was that I’m not doing enough to save the earth. (The second thing TDAT taught me: beware the digital wolves!)

So now M. Night Shyamalan, the guy who made me feel good because I don’t see dead people or live in a pseudo-Amish village, makes me feel like garbage for seeing his latest effort, The Happening. No, I didn’t hate it (my friends who have already seen it were nonplussed, to say the least), but I feel guilty for not watering my tomato plant on a regular basis. Or talking to it. Or bowing down and worshiping it.

Just to let you know, I’m going to include some spoilers in my review. So if you’re dying to see The Happening, you a) should have seen it by now, and b) wouldn’t have read this far to begin with.

What’s it about? Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and Alma (Zooey Deschanel, giving out a Teri Garr-ish vibe) are a Philadelphia couple taking a train with Elliot’s friend/co-worker Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) for a weekend in the country. Without warning, people across the Northeast are killing themselves for no apparent reason. (Initially, we don’t know the why but we definitely know the how; this is Shyamalan’s first R-rated film, with some rather unpleasant violence/gore.)

The train stops in rural Pennsylvania, and the passengers must fend for themselves in what seems to be some sort of eco-terrorism. Elliot’s a science teacher (of course!) and eventually deduces that it’s the plant life–trees, bushes, grass–that are releasing toxins into the air which cause people to end their lives as quickly as possible. But the toxin only affects large groups of people; Elliot, Alma and Jess are spared while others die because there are too many people in their group. There’s more to the plot, but I’ve already said too much.

What’s good about it? There are some effectively creepy moments (Shyamalan’s best scares are the ones we don’t see), and Deschanel in particular is the one bright spot in an otherwise dull cast (no one’s glaringly awful, but no one but Deschanel stands out, either). The pacing is pretty tight–90 minutes and it’s over.

What’s bad about it? Besides guilting me even further because I don’t have a hybrid vehicle? The gore. It feels so gimmicky. Shyamalan’s really great at building suspense by showing restraint. Here, however, he reveals too much and something is lost in the process.

Perfect for: Horror/Shyamalan fans, people who think The Day After Tomorrow is the best movie ever.

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One Response to “Review: ‘The Happening’”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    I realize that I shouldn’t find this surprising in ANY way, and I guess I don’t, but you write great reviews. It’s almost like you’ve seen a lot of movies… Huh. Thanks for directing me to your site–I will definitely be coming back for more.

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