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The Happening

Happening, The (2008) Movie Poster
  •  USA / India / France  •    •  91m  •    •  Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan.  •  Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Betty Buckley, Spencer Breslin, Robert Bailey Jr., Frank Collison, Jeremy Strong, Alan Ruck, Victoria Clark, M. Night Shyamalan, Alison Folland.  •  Music by: James Newton Howard.
       Elliot Moore is a high school science teacher who quizzes his class one day about an article in the New York Times. It's about the sudden, mysterious disappearance of bees. Yet again Nature is doing something inexplicable, and whatever science has to say about it will be, in the end, only a theory. Scientists will bring out more theories, but no explanations, when a more urgent dilemma hits the planet. It begins in Central Park. Suddenly and inexplicably, the behavior of everyone in the park changes in a most bizarre and horrible way. Soon, the strange behavior spreads throughout the city and beyond. Elliot, his wife, Alma, and Jess, the young daughter of a friend, will only have theories to guide them where to run and where to hide. But theories may not be enough.

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Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Image from: Happening, The (2008)
Another absurd entry in M. Night's hall of shame. As a great fan of Shyamalan...'s annihilation, I feel it's my duty to report that he has once again lowered the bar for what is considered a product ready for exposure. I used to think that atonal music was the nadir of creative effort. Now I know that it's M. Night Shyamalan.

Well, "effort" might be hyperbole. First, can you imagine a lazier title than "The happening"? A movie about a divorce, a plane crash or a bank robbery could also be called "The happening", right? These things also "happen", right?

What happens here is that people start to zombify and kill themselves. The movie's premise is a joke. Gaia is punishing humanity for exploiting the planet. This, we learn, is conducted by the flora releasing toxins that "flips" people's "self preservation switches" (you know, those red and green buttons on the back of your head), to which the leading lady adds "it makes ya kill yerself!". Inside sources have revealed that the science adviser had the same teacher as the makers of "Moonraker" and "Fortress 2". Music reminding the viewer of impending doom plays throughout, sometimes with shots of tall grass (the villain) shaking in the breeze (the henchman). The heroes run to escape the encroaching danger. They run and run. The acting, not noteworthy from the onset, quickly deteriorates into "stare-a-lot, scream-a-lot, overact-all-the-time-a-lot"-o-rama when the troubles start. Wahlberg should be press-ganged.

The exposition is the most heavy-handed I've ever seen. Within the first 25 minutes, three TV broadcasts neatly explain "the happening so far". Each of these just happens to start from the top exactly at the moment when the protagonists come in ear-shot of them, and are turned off exactly when enough is revealed to move the story forward, but without revealing too much. In the last half of the movie, two radio broadcasts do the exact same thing (the heroes actually find a radio laying around in the wilderness, just where they happen to pass). OK, so this is an old movie trick, but FIVE times?

Furthermore, Wahlberg's character happens to be a science teacher, who happens to teach about bee extinction just as he is alerted to the fact that something is "happening". As he leaves the classroom, the camera catches a blackboard quote about human extinction likely to follow any bee ditto. A person he later hitchhikes with happens to be the green equivalent of the proverbial "gun nut", providing a good excuse to rattle off a number of theories about plant communication, sentience, revenge and whatnot - crowned with a completely plot-detached detour to the hippie's own greenhouse. Real subtle there, M. Night. As you can see, there are a lot of things that "just happens" in this fiasco.

The ending is also anti-climatic. The attacks just stop. There's actually more focus on the resolution of the protagonists' romantic difficulties than of "the happening". This would be the preferred conduct for a love story set against a larger backdrop, like "Gone with the wind", but this movie presents itself as a suspense story. The love troubles are mostly mentioned in passing - with Manoj's typical deaf ear for real human conversation - and are only given any actual attention by the main characters in the last 15 minutes or so. "Signs" did the same thing - setting the entire movie up as a suspense piece, only to quickly brush over the threat at the end. I guess this is a bizarre take on the twist ending: "Fooled ya! This movie was about human relations all along!".

The cop-out is justified by having some public figures proclaiming (on TV, of course) that "we may never fully understand" this happening, and some weak theory about the planet "warning us" is thrown about. So, Shyamalan is too lazy to follow up on the universe he created, and by only directing resolution to that of the petty quarrel, he is essentially telling us that the happening, the grand premise and TITLE of the movie, wasn't actually important, it was the characters' insights in the face of trouble? You see how dishonest this is?

The reason for Shyamalan's low standard of film-making is, however, only partly due to the talent vacuum. Perhaps more destructive is that his very name has granted him complete creative control over his projects. This is of course a double-edged sword. With no-one to override decisions, a director's habits are usually magnified, both the good and the bad. A good director might be able to make the movie he wants, without being forced to include a love story "for the female audience". For a hack director like M. Night, however, it means that he can get away with any kind of half-witted script without someone remarking "Surely, you must be joking?". If Shyamalan hadn't been "the director of 'The sixth sense'!" - which also was junk, but not as OVERTLY absurdist as his later outings - this script would be laughed out of every studio between Hollywood, Bollywood, Dollywood and the Dagobah system. The trailer (see it - Shyamalan trailers are hilarious for their clichéd attempts to convey urgency and dread) for this movie didn't fail to point out that it's by the creator of the almighty "Sixth sense", and even the tagline flaunts the creator's merits rather than the actual movie's. Also note how half the negative reviews for any Manoj movie includes "Don't get me wrong, I loved 'The sixth sense'" in the first paragraph.

There are three memorable shots in the movie, one of a number people jumping off a tall building, one of a couple of people shooting themselves in succession, and the third of a car driving into a tree. Unfortunately, neither of these scenes included Manoj's obligatory cameo, although I have the distinct feeling that they will symbolize the careers of everyone involved in this debacle.


Review by AntiSpielbergForce
from the Internet Movie Database.