- Released 13 June 2008
- Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
- Runtime 91mins
- Barry Mendel Productions
- Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Originally published in Matrix 188 on 08.07.2008
Reviewed by Martin McGrath
I’d been there before with M Night Shyamalan’s movies. Once again we had terrible reviews and disastrous early word of mouth warning audiences off what, in the past, had always turned out to be better than average science fiction/horror films that ask more of the audience than slack-jawed staring at the screen. Unbreakable, Signs, The Village even the universally scorned Lady in the Water, I have enjoyed them all. So I proceeded to my seat for The Happening confident that as usual I would emerge singing the praises of a misunderstood director who seems condemned to spend the rest of his career expected, by audience and critics, to remake The Sixth Sense.
How wrong I was.
It isn’t that Shyamalan’s talents have entirely deserted him. An eerily effective opening sequence and the smart way he uses the rolling green plains around Philadelphia demonstrate that as a creator of images, Shyamalan remains a potent and interesting director.
But The Happening fails in almost every other respect.
The film starts in New York where, spreading out from Central Park, people start killing themselves in vast numbers. At first terrorists are blamed, but it quickly becomes clear this is a natural phenomenon that is spreading fast. In Philadelphia Elliot (Wahlberg), his wife Alma (Deschanel), brother Julian (Leguizamo) and niece Jess (Sanchez) escape the city by train but are left stranded in the countryside. Leguizamo is sidelined to search for his wife, while Wahlberg, realising that the event is attacking large groups and speculating that plants are responsible, leads his wife and niece across country.
To say that the script is clunky would be to offer the highest possible insult to clunkers. There are exchanges here, especially in the moments where people are supposed to be sharing moments of intimacy (and especially emerging from the mouth of Zooey Deschanel