Justin does The Happening

“Can this really be happening?”

The Scoop: 2008 R, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel and John Leguizamo

Tagline: We’ve Sensed It. We’ve Seen The Signs. Now… It’s Happening.

Summary Capsule: Some sort of event in the Northeast is causing random acts of complete self-destruction. Listless survivors travel listlessly towards hopeful safety.

Justin’s Rating: A black thumb

Justin’s Review: When your movie gets to a point where the main character is talking — pleading, really — for a houseplant to leave him alone and let him go to the bathroom without being killed, it’s time to take a big step back and realize that you accidentally sprayed everything with concentrated-strength stupid.  That you need to start over and not forge ahead should go without saying, but then again, you’re not M. Night Shyamalan and your movie is awesome and not The Happening.

Seriously, what happened to Shyamalan?  Volumes have speculated on the lightning-fast rise and tragic fall of this inventive filmmaker, but if you asked me, I’d probably say that he got too close to his ideas to the point of being oblivious whether or not they were good.  All of his films have intriguing concepts, but the execution went from top-notch (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable) to middling (Signs) to apocalyptic warning signs (The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening).

Shyamalan said he wanted to make a good B-movie with The Happening, so, okay, let’s examine it through that lens.  A good B-movie is an entertaining flick that sacrifices tight logic for rip-roaring fun.  The Happening certainly sacrifices tight logic, but isn’t really entertaining nor fun (although it’s not without some merit) and thus fails at being a good anything.  Like the event spreading in the film, it’s not easy to contain the fault to just one area, either.  Here’s a quick breakdown of the movie’s most egregious sins:

1. It pulls its R-rated punches

The Happening is Shyamalan’s first R-rated outing, but honestly, you can barely tell from the way he winces away from anything truly graphic.  I’m not saying that the movie had to be graphic to be effective, but it’s surprisingly bloodless and toothless for an R-rated apocalyptic tale about people killing themselves in horrible ways.  It’s like the director is trying to both poop and get off the pot at the same time, and satisfies nothing in the process.

2. Bad characters, bad acting

Wow, did the acting suck here.  How much of this can be blamed on the script vs. the direction vs. the actors themselves, who knows, but Mark Whalberg and Zooey Deschanel have done so much better than this.  Basically, you’re presented with wooden props that sort of look like people, but nothing they say or do is very believable or relatable.  Also, Mark begs a plant to let him pee, so there’s that.

3. Going from big to small

I haven’t talked much about the plot yet, so here it goes.  The film opens on an event happening (or Happening) in Central Park that causes people to stop in their tracks, mumble, then commit suicide.  It’s originally played as a terrorist attack, but soon it’s discovered to be widespread and people start trying to flee the eastern seaboard.

It’s not a half-bad idea, really, but it’s fumbled so wrong that it fails to be half as interesting as it has a right to be.  One of the weirdest things about this film is that the start of it is probably the biggest display of the event’s impact, what with NYC and all, but then as the movie progresses everything gets smaller and smaller.  The protagonists travel from the big city to a smaller town to isolated farmhouses, the event goes from killing loads to just one or two at a time, and the larger scope of what’s going on is reduced to a guy talking to a plant about the need to urinate.  It’s like the exact opposite of how every film should ever flow.

4. Silly premise and heavy-handed exposition

Okay, lots of spoilers here, because they can’t be avoided.  It turns out that this “happening” isn’t a terrorist attack, but a neurotoxin released by plants because of overpopulation or somesuch.  We know this not because the film arrives at this conclusion organically, but because two or three characters have ham-fisted exposition scenes that spell it out for the audience as if we weren’t the same people to understand the subtleties going on in The Sixth Sense a few years back.

Plus, it’s just a silly premise all around and terribly difficult to convey on the screen.  It’s suggested — and the movie backs this up — that there are “rules” that the trees are following to attack people, and that’s that trees will attack big groups but not small ones, and will only off people with negative vibes (seriously) but not positive ones.  Insert your tree-hugging hippie joke here, because there are way too many that I can’t decide.

And since neurotoxins aren’t visible, the threat of the film comes from wind and swaying plants.  Again, this should’ve caused everyone involved to scrap the concept and start over.

5. The title

The Titling.

Kyle’s Rating: I’ll say it at least a couple times in my review: This is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

Kyle’s Review: The Happening is easily one of the worst movies I have ever seen. A friend told me he thought it was actually pretty good. I now worry for my friend’s sanity, or at the very least his aesthetic taste in film. We’re supposed to acknowledge that whole “different strokes for different folks” phenomenon, where someone’s idea of the worst thing ever can easily be someone else’s bestest, coolest thing.

Sorry, but I find it extremely difficult to see how anyone could find anything remotely redeeming within this film. I was tempted to see it in theaters for Zooey Deschanel, despite a light personal vow to never give M. Night Shyamalan a dime. It’s not so much wanting to see him rendered penniless as I simply never wanted to sit through another of his films ever again.

I only put The Happening in my DVD player because, well, a friend gave me a free copy. I, uh, don’t know where he got it from. Sure. Rebelliously, I felt like it would be “okay” to watch The Happening because of the circumstances. My friend brought me the film without prompting, so it wasn’t like I purposely sought it out. If a crappy movie you never wanted to see falls into your lap for free and it’s an otherwise warm and uneventful summer Sunday evening, what do you do? What do you do?

Unfortuately, I chose “watch it”. Needless to say, I chose poorly.

Atrocious dialogue. Ridiculous situations. Movies have transcended such things in the past, but combine that with dinner theater-like acting performances and an inept screenplay so bad that it seems to have a malicious intent to inflict discomfort upon its viewers.

Once you hit the ‘cough syrup’ speech, you will know that this is a new modern low for cinema. By the time Wahlberg starts singing the Doobie Brothers, which leads to another ridiculous scene of violence (albeit violence necessary to trim our “intrepid” band of heroes to a manageable level), you will feel like someone involved in the film is obligated to pay you back, either monetarily or with some kind of indentured servitude.

The only possible caveat here is that I have never really been on the east coast, beyond Chicago at least (does Florida count? I don’t count Florida). So if people in New York and Pennsylvania and the like would respond to potential world-ending circumstances with dull, vacant expressions and idiotic survival plans, then I gladly acknowledge that The Happening does a fairly good job at capturing the dull, listless lives of such folk. But I’m personally thinking this is not the case. I’ll take Cloverfield over this nonsense anytime.

I brought the DVD over to my dad’s house so he could see it for free, too. He played devil’s advocate for the movie, arguing that the premise (which is never really spelled out, although one theory is made more probable than the rest, surely to the defeated amusement of those foolish enough to pay full price for their theater tickets) was at least interesting. Which is definitely true; I’ll gladly admit that.

But man is that acting bad. It has been noted that Shyamalan wrote the script with Mark Wahlberg in mind for the lead: if this were the only film with Wahlberg you ever saw it would be impossible to ascertain why anyone would do such a thing. But as Wahlberg has been arguably great in other films, you must again conclude that Shyamalan just plain sucks.

Please don’t see The Happening.

The Sittening!


  • If you choosing your own method of suicide, ‘mauled by tigers’ can only be beaten by ‘run over by massive lawnmower’
  • Plants apparently have impressive control over the wind, or at least work very well in tandem with the wind currents
  • This was the first M. Night Shyamalan film to receive a R rating
  • There is a tremendous error in geography within this film. The characters board a train for Harrisburg, which is in the south central part of the state. The train takes them only to Filbert and stops. However, Filbert is much further west than Harrisburg (south of Pittsburgh).

Groovy Quotes

Elliot Moore: You’re not interested in what happened to the bees?
[Jake shakes his head]
Elliot Moore: You should be more interested in science, Jake. You know why? Because your face is perfect. The problem is, your face is perfect at 15. Now if you were interested in science, you would know facts like the human nose and ears grow a fraction of an inch each year. So a perfect balance of features now might not look so perfect five years from now, and might look down right whack ten years from now.
[students laugh]
Elliot Moore: Come on, buddy. Take an interest in science. What could be the reason bees have vanished?
Jake: [after a long pause] An act of nature, and we’ll never fully understand it.
Elliot Moore: Nice answer, Jake. He’s right. Science will come up with some reason to put in the books, but in the end it’ll be just a theory. I mean, we will fail to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding. To be a scientist, you must have a respectful awe for the laws of nature.
[Jake raises his hand]
Elliot Moore: Jake?
Jake: How much does the human nose grow each year?
Elliot Moore: It’s miniscule, buddy. Okay? Don’t worry about it. You’re going to be a heartthrob your whole life. I was just messing with you.

Principal: [to concerned teachers] Alright, there appears to be an event happening. Central Park was just hit by what seems to be a terrorist attack. They’re not clear on the scale yet. It’s some kind of airborne chemical toxin that’s been released in and around the park. They said to watch for warning signs. The first stage is confused speech. The second stage is physical disorientation, loss of direction. The third stage… is fatal.

Julian: Hey, I’m going to tell you something that you should never tell your best friend.
Elliot Moore: Why is everybody saying that?
Julian: [referring to Alma] I saw her on your wedding day.
Elliot Moore: Again with the wedding. What?
Julian: I walked into her waiting room by mistake, and she was crying. She looked up and I saw her face. She wasn’t ready to jump in, Elliot. That’s not who she is. She’s never going to jump in when you need her, man.

Nursery Owner: You know plants have the ability to target specific threats. Tobacco plants when attacked by heliothis caterpillars will send out a chemical attracting wasps to kill just those caterpillars. We don’t know how plants obtain these abilities, they just evolve very rapidly.
Alma Moore: Which species is doing it if you think it’s true?
Nursery Owner: Plants have the ability to communicate with other species of plants. Trees can communicate with bushes, and bushes with grass, and everything in between.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Sixth Sense
  • The Ruins
  • Day of the Triffids

1 Comment

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