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The Happening (2008)

Film review: The Happening (2008), written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

thehappeningIf you’ve heard nothing about this film, you might find it interesting. If you’ve heard what it’s about, you wonder why the hell the characters don’t realise what’s going on straight away. Not like it’s staring them in the face or anything. And that’s even before you start poking holes into the supposed “science”.

With trying to carefully avoid spoiling the film, teachers Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and Julian (John Leguizamo) are in school when Something Happens in New York City. People in Central Park freeze, then start acting funny, and then finally kill themselves. And this spreads. Is this some airborne toxin released by terrorists?

In any case, they decide to leave town with their respective families. Julian’s wife has been detained elsewhere, so their daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) is with them. Elliot has marital problems with wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), but that has to be put aside to try and outrun the terrorists, or whatever the hell is going on.

Also featuring Betty Buckley as the peculiar Mrs Jones, Robert Bailey Jr and Spencer Breslin as Jared and Josh, Frank Collison (the telegraph operator in Dr Quinn who married a hooker) as a Nursery Owner – he has aged well, I’m happy to report! – and Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Spin City) as the school principal.

This film sounded interesting when it was released, and we considered going to watch it. Then we heard what it was about, and thought better of it. Now I know we did the right thing in waiting for it to be shown on TV. It’s simply not that good.

The Happening is about a group of people who are trying to stay alive when Something or Someone is trying to kill everyone in sight. A bit like Outbreak, I suppose, except … well, Outbreak was a nail-biting sort of film. The Happening more “I’ll go put the kettle on, shall I?” But, like I said in the beginning, if you have no idea whatsoever what’s going on because you’ve not heard any spoilers, then you might enjoy it. I didn’t, because all I saw was a group of people continuously frowning and wondering how terrorists could have done this, because it seems too strange.

There are people in the film who have (correct) theories about what’s going on, and to that, I just felt like saying “duh!” and wonder why a biology teacher couldn’t pick that up a lot sooner.

Still, if you like Mark Wahlberg, this is a film you should see, simply based on how much screen time he gets. Hadn’t realised before that John Leguizamo is eyecandy too. And I said last (?) week how I’m starting to get bored by Zooey Deschanel … this film is one of the contributing factors to that boredom. Then again, all the characters are pretty dull here, but the little girl, Jess, is sweet. She should be deeply traumatised, though.

The ending is also peculiar (with what happens, or rather, what suddenly stops happening), and the final scene was very reminiscent of The X-Files. It’s from the same person who made films like The Sixth Sense, The Village and other films with Big Twists at the End. (We do not speak of the live action film of a great animated TV series, even though M Night Shyamalan was responsible for it too.) Thing is, you can still enjoy The Sixth Sense if you know what the twist is. We had The Village figured out early on too, and still thought it was okay. But this? It just doesn’t work. Don’t really care about the characters and the plot just doesn’t hold up.

1.5 out of 5 trees.

Dang, and I said I wasn’t going to spoil it. Oh well. 😛

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on. Might get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

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