Happening (2008)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Ashlyn Sanchez Betty Buckley John Leguizamo Mark Wahlberg Zooey Deschanel

It's been nine years since he helmed the PG-13 horror classic "The Sixth Sense," a movie that spawned a subgenre of hugely successful horror films for teens and up that includes classics like "The Ring" and forgettable dreck like "The Eye."

In that time, M. Night Shyamalan has directed some decent "Twlight Zone"-ish and for the most part non-horrorish stuff, including "Signs", "The Village" and "Unbreakable" -- all leisurely paced thrillers frequently featuring twist endings. They all pay homage to Serling.

His latest film is not a total success, but unlike many of the reviews that have panned it, it isn't a total failure either. It's a decent apocalyptic horror film that does suffer from some bad dialogue -- and some less-than-spectacular acting, particularly from Zooey Deschanel who just doesn't feel believable in her role as the film's main damsel in distress. (She is, however, the spitting image of Cindy Williams from "Laverne and Shirley," so she is fun to watch.)

Wahlberg plays Elliot, a science instructor who gets caught up in a bizarre attack by nature on humanity along the East coast. Beginning in parks, like Central Park in the opening scene of the movie, people suddenly stop walking, dead in their tracks, then proceed to commit suicide any way they can. Guns are used by cops to kill themselves, then picked up by people nearby who use them on themselves, dropping them, and the cycle continues. Workers leap off of construction sites. And people basically just do what they need to kill themselves.

With his less-than-loving wife (Zooey) in tow, our heroic science instructor takes a train to Philadelphia, only to have the train stop out in the middle of nowhere when it loses contact with the every other station. He, his wife, their friend and their friend's young daughter are left to fend for themselves as reports of the epidemic indicate it's spreading from populated big cities to small towns.

Eventually it seems to spread from small towns to small groups of people as it becomes clear -- at least to Elliot -- that the attacks are emanating from plant life that is determined to destroy humanity.

The first R-rated feature from Shyamalan, "The Happening" has been compared to Steven Spielberg's apocalyptic "War of the Worlds" and there are some similarities. But it also reminded me of a Masters of Horror episode, "The Screwfly Solution." Needless to say, both those works are better than this one.

But that's not to discount this movie, which is genuinely terrifying at times. I did find myself caught up in Shyamalan's apocalyptic world for a time -- before some really bad dialogue or acting would shake me out of it. It seems Shyamalan has become too sure of himself.

There's also a problem with the cast. Shyamalan depended upon major acting talent in "The Sixth Sense" and "The Village" to enable those films to work. Deschanel and even Wahlberg don't seem up to the task of making this film totally believable.

In any case, the film does have its moments and it isn't the total turd some online critics are making it out to be. It just isn't as good as some of the other apocalyptic horror films we've seen lately, like "28 Weeks Later" or "The Signal."

<< Back

-- Review by Lucius Gore

comments powered by Disqus