Movie Review: M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening (2008)

Okay, I am going to review this movie, but first a rant. I am so sick and tired of everyone dogging on M. Night Shyamalan and saying how much he stinks as a director. The truth is, this guy doesn't fit into our current Hollywood box. You know what? He isn't out for your votes. He is out to refine himself as a director. Let me give you just one example of this. I was at the movie theater buying my ticket for The Happening. A man in front of me is buying his ticket for the same movie. Then a 2nd gentleman walks up who isn't sure what movie to see. When the guy hears what movie that man is seeing, he says, "What's the Happening about?" The man turns to him and says, "It's a horror movie." I'm standing there in shock. What? A horror movie? What in the world gave him that idea? If you watched the preview at all, it's not a horror movie. It's freaky if anything, and you really couldn't tell what it was going to be about. Just because he made one movie that was sort of horror, doesn't mean you can put him in that category. I think this is the essential problem. People go into movies expecting to see a certain thing. When that expectation isn't met, they get angry.

Some of you might be wondering why I am making such a big deal about this. A couple years ago, M. Night came out with a movie called Lady in the Water. Movie critics hated it. A lot of people hated it. I almost didn't go see it. I am glad I ignored everyone. That was one of my favorite movies of the year. To me his movies are art. He isn't about plot or character development. It's more about the mood. He plays the audience. He is the closest thing to Hitchcock I have seen. Hitchcock was the ultimate director. I don't think M Night is on a level with Hitch yet but he is out for the same thing. He throws people off balance. They don't know what to make of him, so they reject him as a director. Not every movie of his has been successful at the box office, but he chooses his projects carefully. He makes movies that are different from anyone else. And I respect him. More than anything, I respect his search for the spiritual in the every day.

For the Happening, I again heard all sort of slanderous remarks about the movie, about Shyamalan himself, about Mark Wahlberg. Nothing happened or it's too slow or it didn't make sense. Well, maybe he did that on purpose. Maybe he doesn't want it to make sense. Maybe it's about the moment and getting a response from people, even if that response is anger.

So now that's out of the way, I can tell you I very much enjoyed The Happening. The movie is freaky more than scary.
There were times I found the script random. Some moments seemed like there should have been a punch line, which didn't fit with the whole "serious movie vibe." The plot moved slow but it kept me involved.

In this movie, people in Central Park are behaving oddly. Some are walking backwards. Others repeat the same sentence over and over again. One lady stabs herself in the neck with a needle. Then we meet our protagonist, a science teacher in Philadelphia. He is trying to get his students interested in science. He wants them to make theories up about the disappearance of bees. By this time, word of the strange "happening" has reached the school. The principal decides to close the school and let people be home with their families.

The teacher (Elliot), his wife, best friend, and daughter decide to get out of town. Maybe it will be safer somewhere else. Inter-family tensions are high, but they are determined to stick together. They soon find out that finding a safe spot will prove more harder than they imagined. This movie will keep you guessing all the way through. Can science save the day?

This movie was very much like The Birds. The plot seems to weird to be plausible, but you are wondering if this could every really happen. All the technologies and things we humans rely on are of no use, and all the characters have to rely on is their wits and the kindness of strangers. Remember in The Birds when it ended you felt exhausted? I remember thinking, where can they go to feel safe? Birds are everywhere. How could you run from them? Would they be running forever? The truth is, no mater how much we might wish it to be true, safety is an illusion. There is no safety on this Earth. I feel that is an essential truth, and that is why I appreciate Shyamalan's work.


A.C. said…
I saw this movie a little while ago, and I must say, I thought it was horrible. Mark Wahlberg? Seriously? Worst performance ever.

HOWEVER, I do respect M. Night quite a bit and I do agree with:

"Well, maybe he did that on purpose. Maybe he doesn't want it to make sense."

That's the only thing I can go with, or rather, I really hope he did that on purpose. This movie was so "random" I actually believe it was a comedy...
Lindsey said…
I am wondering if you saw Ebert's review of this movie. He has an interesting take, as well. I'm not out to change anyone's mind, but I just want people to stop hating on him.
Erin said…
Hmm. Thanks for posting your review on this, I enjoyed reading it....M Night Shyamalan is my favorite director, but I have to say that I really was disappointed with The Happening.
Dr. Deb said…
I want to see this. I have been disappointed in the last movie of his - Lady in the Water. I enjoyed The Village, and his earlier ones. So, I'll give it a go.