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THE HAPPENING by M. Night Shyamalan


When a M. Night Shyamalan film comes out, everybody’s waiting for the final twist, the big surprise – like Bruce Willis discovering he is one of the “dead people” Haley Joel Osment did see in The Sixth Sense, or Bruce Willis (again) discovering he is really a superhero in Unbreakable, or the not-so-surprising twist of The Village.
The Happening never reveals what exactly is going on, but the less than subtle camera hints at the solution already a couple minutes after the movie starts and keeps doing so until the longed for end. The beginning is promising – in the northeast of the USA, people suddenly start to behave strangely, forgetting what they have just been doing, and then killing themselves. There is an impressive scene where construction workers walk off their scaffold and silently fall to their death, landing with a thud. Unfortunately, with this scene right at the beginning, The Happening has already reached it’s high point, and it goes only down from here.
The news report a possible terroristic attack with an unknown biological weapon, and people start leaving the big cities. Elliot and Alma Moore (Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel), a couple with some marital trouble, is among the people leaving Philadelphia by train, together with a friend of Elliot, Julian (John Leguizamo), and his little daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). The train stops in the middle of nowhere, and most of the passengers try to escape into less densely populated areas, except Julian who decides to try to find his wife in Princeton, leaving Jess with Elliot and Alma.
The three meet a botanist who spells out what the camera hinted at – he tells them that plants can communicate and produce toxins to defend themselves against threats, and he thinks the plants are finally tired of humanity and have somehow conspired to kill mankind.
They hike across the rural country then, meeting other people on the run, then losing them again, with Mark Wahlberg trying unconvincingly to make Elliot appear smart (actually he seems rather slow-witted) and a bit of a leadership personality. If you still want to know: yes, Marky Mark and Zooey will survive, and yes again, it will be embarassingly corny.

Just what happened with The Happening? The premise is interesting, and there are some eerie and beautiful scenes, but otherwise the film fails on all levels. It fails as a mystery thriller because there is no mystery and no thrill, it fails as an apocalyptic “green” movie because the execution is pitiful: for some reason it seems the trees do not only produce a toxin which would be fine, but they seem also to generate wind at will which carries the toxin towards people – what’s that? And you know something is wrong with a movie when people try to outrun the wind (really!). And as a character study how people behave and grow in dangerous situations it’s a total failure because of Wahlberg’s poor acting, the awful dialogue and the fact that any interesting character who shows up is guaranteed to disappear again after fifteen minutes. If you are looking for a good Night out, better try somewhere else!

The Happening movie trailer

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