The Happening (2008)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Premise: When people on the East Coast mysteriously begin dying en masse, a high school science teacher (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife travel across the countryside while trying to figure our what is happening.
What Works: The Happening is one of Shyamalan’s better films. The picture manages to sell a fairly outrageous premise by using a realistic and minimal approach. The unseen menace of The Happening forces the focus to be placed on the characters, and it falls to the actors to sell the illusion. It’s a risky premise but the film makes it work through some great casting and channeling the exposition through limited media sources. Mark Wahlberg stars as a high school science teacher and he does well playing against type. Zooey Deschanel stars as his wife, and she has the challenge of playing an extremely stoic woman but not making her look bored or blank. Deschanel pulls it off and she and Wahlberg’s character have some effective scenes together. Shyamalan’s films have usually been marked by twists and turns, and although there is a mystery to be uncovered, The Happening is much more straightforward than his other pictures. The story relies on rising drama rather than twists, making this is a much more mature film than Shyamalan’s other work; the characters have much more reality to them and the situation has much more weight. The picture is also well unified; Shyamalan’s films often deal with the limits of rational thought and scientific inquiry and The Happening carries on this theme, allowing Shyamalan to do some of his most interesting work with it.
What Doesn’t: The story of The Happening is pretty light, especially the finale. The trouble is that the film is not really building towards a discernible climax and the ending is rather flat; it does not empower the protagonist. As good as Wahlberg and others are in the film, the story is not really giving him anything to do except run in the opposite direction of the corpses. Wahlberg’s character development is largely internalized and although the actor sells it, the story needs something more palatable and immediate at stake.
Bottom Line: The Happening is good but not great. The film is for viewers who like to think, more so than any other film in Shyamalan’s filmography except The Village, which may be his best work so far. This is certainly betterthan Signs or Lady in the Water and at the very least it is one of Shyamalan’s most interesting and original films.
Episode: #119 (June 22, 2008)