, 91 min, 2008
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening is a good idea, decently executed, forewarning of a calamity that would be catastrophic to the human race – and which is diabolical in its implications.
As the film opens, on a bench in Central Park sit two young women. One is telling the other about something. Soon, she loses her train of thought. All around them, people stop dead in their tracks, then begin to walk backward. Next thing you know, the woman who had been talking kills herself with a needle in her hair. Several men jump off one by one from the top of a nearby construction site. One chillingly virtuoso scene has a cop take out his revolver in traffic and shoot himself, with the gun being passed around like a hot potato, used in first one suicide and then another. And so it goes…
Soon, we meet Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), a Philadelphia high school science teacher. He is married to the beautiful but distant and withdrawn Alma (Zooey Deschanel). His best friend is Julian (John Leguizamo), a math teacher in the same school. They get word of the mysterious suicides, which are rumored at first to be a “terrorist attack.” They flee, boarding a train to a nearby town. They soon find that the horror has spread all over the Eastern seaboard.
Walking cross-country, Elliot and Alma meet other survivors, share theories (could nature be exacting bloody revenge for the way humans have treated the world?), and reflect on their young marriage and whether or not it can survive any longer. Secrets are revealed, fears shared, and the meaning of such things seems almost a moot point.
The film was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village), who follows up his underwhelming Lady in the Water (2006) by concocting a thoughtful and entertaining horror-thriller in the vein of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). I’d suspect many will find the film ludicrous, alternating between the goofy and boring. The pace is deliberate, the events subtle in their staging and implications. If the film is silly at times, it is also eerie, hypnotic and, in the end, surprisingly convincing. It may be the best work from this man since Signs (2002).