The Happening (2008)

The Happening is a 2008 film by director/writer M. Night Shyamalan, starring Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. Advertised as M. Night’s first R-rated film, it was categorized in the “thriller” genre. The film takes place in present-day America and follows its stars trying to avoid being exterminated by some kind of airborne substance. What is that substance, you ask? Watch about half the movie and you’ll find out.

That’s one of the main problems I have with The Happening. It doesn’t give itself enough time to build up tension before the big reveal happens. You are just getting to know the characters when they are told the origin of the mystery substance. The rest of the film involves the characters trying to avoid being caught by the substance that is now chasing them. Mark Wahlberg plays Elliot, a science teacher, while his wife Alma is played by Zooey Deschanel. You can tell they have issues with each other from the beginning of the movie, but you never really feel like their relationship is in jeopardy. Apart from the daughter of Julian (John Leguizamo), played by Ashlyn Sanchez, the rest of the cast is pretty much non-existent. Elliot and Alma pretty much carry the entire film, with other characters coming and going like the wind.

The Happening never really seems scary or tense. It’s just a story guiding you through, but I always got the feeling that everything would be all right by the end. The substance that ends up being unleashed upon the world goes through three stages. The first stage is forgetfulness and difficulty speaking coherent sentences. The second stage is paralysis, while the third stage is suicide. The suicides are usually creative and enjoyable to watch. No two suicide scenes are the same, and you will get to witness many different ways for people to kill themselves. Despite the suicides being enjoyable to watch, they seemed to be the only real reason this film even got an R rating, and I believe that turning down the gore would have been enough to get a lower rating, and would not have hampered how much the film could be enjoyed. The rest of it is pretty tame, and after the first 2/3, there isn’t all that much even happening, especially with the substance. It plays more of a bystander role during the last part of the film, and lets the people tell the story.

Despite it not being a classically good movie, it is enjoyable enough to warrant a watch. And that should be what really matters.

The acting in The Happening is laughable, but in a good way. Whether this is intentional or not is beyond me, but it kept me chuckling quite a bit throughout. Many of the lines are delivered in a way that is unintentionally funny, especially when the characters are expected to be taken seriously. Mark Wahlberg is especially guilty of this, but I can’t dislike him because I have a nagging thought in the back of my head that this is what was intended by Shyamalan. Before the film was released, M. Night went on the record to say that he was trying to make a good B-Movie. Did he succeed in that? He pretty much does. Despite it not being a classically good movie, it is enjoyable enough to warrant a watch. And that should be what really matters.

The plot is quite silly and ends up being there just to guide the characters through a few different locations. The “twist” of an ending is something that will be figured out far before you should, and the acting, while funny, can’t be called “good.” It is still a fun film to watch, and I would at least recommend you to check it out if you see it for a cheap price, or if it comes on television one night. Watch it with a couple other people, and laugh at the hilariously forced dialogue that the characters deliver. This movie is fun to watch at least once. It likely won’t be as good the second time, but give it at least one chance.

Conclusion: The Happening is a B-movie that’s funnier than it is scary—although maybe or maybe not intentionally.

Recommendation: Only those who are looking for a less-than-serious take on a disaster movie should check out The Happening.

Rating: ***

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