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Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Happening’

June 10, 2018

Written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan is one of my favorite directors because he isn’t afraid to swing-and-miss. His films The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, The Visitors and Split (forget the other two) are mind-bogglers that are either great or terrible. His box-office hit ($193 million internationally) The Happening is one of his biggest head-scratchers because it makes very little sense and features heavily directed performances that work against the dark themes. It’s an earnest horror movie that is like it’s killer in that it is “an act of nature and we’ll never fully understand it.” I love The Happening because of its total dedication to being a “force of nature that is beyond our understanding.” It is an odd-gem that swung-and-missed and is easy to dislike and almost easier to make fun of.

The Happening opens with a woman stabbing herself in the neck with a hairpin and then shows us construction workers making suicidal jumps at an NYC worksite. It’s an eye-grabber of an introduction that proves M. Night was using the films R-rating to its full potential. It’s grim, mysterious and is very (very very) Shyamalan. It then cuts to science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) earnestly discussing the disappearance of bees in his high school science class. His class is interrupted when news breaks out that people in NYC are becoming suicidal after being exposed to a type of toxin or poisonous gas (AKA neurotoxin). Wahlberg joins up with his girlfriend Alma Moore (Zooey Deschanel) and his pal Julian (John Leguizamo) and they start making their way to the safety of Philadelphia. Before they can get to Philly their train stops and they are dropped off in Philbert, Pennsylvania to fend for themselves.

We see the bad reviews coming.


Elliott and Alma eventually learn that the “wind” is targeting cities, towns, and roads so they get off the grid and find themselves wandering rural Philadelphia looking to stay ahead of the wind. Their journey leads to bloody moments featuring various members of their party killing themselves or being killed which allows Elliott to piece together clues about what is happening around them. Everything culminates to quite possibly the strangest moment of 21st-century film when they come across an old woman who is very (very very very) strange. Watch this clip and you will know what I mean.

The Happening is a nonstop thriller that features constant violent suicides, stilted dialogue and heavy foreshadowing (plants respond to human stimulus). Most importantly, the main antogonists are plants who are mad at humans for destroying the earth so they lash out with “suicide wind” in order to thin the populace a bit. It’s interesting to watch because the breakneck murderous pace clashes with the patient M. Night dialogue that focuses heavily on whispers, cough syrup and bonkers questions (Are you eyeing my lemonade?). It’s a mishmashed grouping of mishmashed elements that goes to some shocking places when it murders teenagers and features humans being run over by their lawnmowers. The relationship between Alma and Elliott is never fully established and it goes to some weird places when they are forced to watch over a young child and be asked pointed questions about their relationship.

Mark Wahlberg justifiably hates this movie but I appreciate that he went all-in and delivered the performance Shyamalan wanted. The same goes for Deschanel who isn’t given much and manages to keep a straight face while saying “can you believe how crappy people are?” Shyamalan always manages to get all-in performances from his actors and it’s interesting that they can really pay off (James MacAvoy – Split) or play as super awkward (Paul Giamatti – The Lady in the Water). It’s a credit to Shyamalan that actors believe in what he is doing and he managed to get back-on-track after his The Last Airbender and After Earth debacles. I love how Split was a massive hit and the end result is Glass which is a sequel to my favorite superhero movie Unbreakable.

The Happening is not a good movie but I like how it tells an insane story in a breezy 90 minutes. I guarantee we will never get another movie like this (for a reason) and that is why I appreciate it. When you watch as many movies as I do you begin to appreciate movies like The Happening because they are f**king crazy and are the result of a filmmaker having total control and no oversight. Some of the best worst movies happen (The Postman, Evan Almighty, Jupiter Ascending) when directors can do whatever they’ve had success and can make their passion projects with zero restraint.

If you are a looking for an absolutely insane movie I totally recommend The Happening because it’s confusing, embarrassing, earnest and very fun.


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