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The Happening

A movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

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I found this eco-horror flick to be much better than they said -- not a conventional Hollywood thriller, much closer to J-horror

  • Aug 26, 2009
If you go into "The Happening" expecting an American style horror/disaster flick, you're bound to be disappointed. What you want from that kind of film are massive explosions, car crashes, tornadoes, zombies or monsters or ghosts, and big budget special effects, all tied together into some kind of coherent narrative with escalating action, leading to a climax in which (usually) the hero saves the world (or at least the local community) and achieves some kind of much needed reconciliation with his/her family.

While there are elements of all that in The Happening, what you really get here is something else, more subtle and strange, that alternates between the utterly mundane and the overblown melodramatic, between everyday moments and terrifying extremes. There isn't really a sense of escalating action, but more inaction punctuated with crisis situations. For the most part the feeling is sustained by a subtly creepy intensity mixed with moments of somewhat silly, interrupted by a few sudden and inexplicable and gory moments, inventive acts of self-destruction, all designed to shock and amuse. If you go into this expecting something else, the style here can look like incompetence. What struck me watching it the first time in theaters and even more on subsequent viewings in the home is that this is much more like a Japanese than American style horror film. M. Night Shyamalan effectively made a "J-horror" flick. Many of the very same features that some were bugged by in this film appear in spades in "J-Horror" films and are accepted as cultural oddities - I think there is a greater tolerance for unconventional stylings when they appear in a foreign language. I suspect that if this had been an Asian film with subtitles, but otherwise identical, many critics who panned it would have proclaimed it brilliantly ironic and inventive.

In J-horror (such as Ringu or Dark Water or Suicide Club, or, even better, Pulse) the focus tends to be on ordinary people, caught up in an inexplicable and seemingly supernatural situation, usually where some kind of force is out to avenge itself for some offence and doesn't really care who suffers, only cares that they suffer. Part of what generates dread in these films is that the audience is aware of a real and potent threat, that the protagonists only gradually come to accept as real. Moreover, it quickly becomes apparent there is no escape, and the threat is uncaring and implacable. These films usually aren't plotted in the so-called "Hollywood style," where a character must act to face up to an escalating challenge that is both broadly significant and deeply personal. In J-horror, the ultimate outcome is just not up to the characters. They can't rise to the challenge, and the escalating dread comes from the fact that their efforts eventually come to nothing. If they end up escaping, that is as inexplicable as the initial danger; while they may resolve personal issues, the larger issue represented by the threat remains unresolved. While the story itself often meanders and reactions often alternate between overblown and understated, what ties it together are a series of horrific images, that are not so much explicit as highly suggestive. Anyone who's seen "The Happening" should recognize that it fits easily with this general pattern - Frank Darabont's The Mist works along similar lines, but is closer to conventional horror film expectations.

Where the film deviates from the general framework is in its fairly unambiguous (pseudoscientific) explanations of the ultimate grounds of the inexplicable happenings. Still, if it is blunt in its environmental message, it is also bluntly ironic about the likelihood of any changes taking place as a result of the kind of massive ecological catastrophe depicted here. I found it to be a lot of fun to watch, and when I saw it again with my wife, we were both entertained. My sense is that much of the disappointment about Shyamalan comes from expecting him to make the usual kind of Hollywood blockbuster films, when what he really does best is something more akin to American independent and foreign horror films.

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November 18, 2010
Great review and that last paragraph is spot on about him.
August 08, 2010
Very nice review! I also agree that this had a comparison to J-horror. Seen Marebito?
More The Happening reviews
review by . December 01, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
** out of ****      In the past, M. Night Shyamalan has dealt with the ominous, the dark, the questionable, the humane, and even the beautiful. He has shocked me and with "Signs", I was most certainly riveted. But then came "The Village", which was a decent movie, but it was a big step down from "Signs". Then came "Lady in the Water", which I just could not find myself enjoying. M. Night Shyamalan tries to patch up his career with his first …
review by . August 08, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Man Cannot Explain Every Phenomena, But He Tries To Explain Through Deductive Reasoning...
Act of God- A direct and sudden event or action of certain unexplainable forces that could not be reasonably foreseen; it compromises all evidence and defies all attempts at explanation by Science.      THE HAPPENING is writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest outing after his somewhat disappointing “Lady in the Water”. This director’s films are lyrical in tone but often has a darkness in their proceedings; Shyamalan‘s films are also thematic …
review by . May 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I heard this was M. Night Shyamalan's best film since The Sixth Sense (Collector's Edition Series), so I wanted to see for myself.     I really liked this movie because it was suspenseful and moved along at a fast clip, but it's definitely not in the same league as The Sixth Sense. That was a gripping movie, filled with eerie, frightening happenings and great acting.    The opening scene of The Happening occurs in Central Park on a bustling, normal day. Two …
Quick Tip by . October 19, 2010
I enjoyed it, but this one didn't feel up to the standard of the first ones.
Quick Tip by . August 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
dumb dumb boring and dumb did i mention dumb?? lots of suspence leading up to NOTHING
review by . July 05, 2009
The Happening is Shymalan's first bad movie. But he still has yet to make a complete dud of a film. This one comes a bit close, but not quite. For one, the premise is much too good: Mother Earth strikes back, emitting from all of her greenery a toxin that is fatal for humans. Specifically, it causes them to kill themselves.From there, you can gather that the 90 minute runtime will be filled with confusion and hysteria as everyone tries to escape this strange Green Effect (by the way, that was the …
Quick Tip by . April 29, 2010
Movie Review Haiku: The Happening - Answers the question / "What's Happening?" with a curt / "Nothing worth watching."
review by . July 08, 2009
M. Night Shayamalan got a huge career boost with The Sixth Sense.  When Unbreakable and Signs came out later, they were met with similar praise from fans.  People found his films to be something different and unique.  Shayamalan made his first mishap with The Village.  The idea of a big twist at the end of his movies didn't get old.  His twists just got weaker.  The Village was a movie that many found absorbing until those last few minutes when we learned of the twist.  …
review by . May 01, 2009
In our opening, people start committing suicide randomly,finding strangely violent cinematic ways to dispatch themselves -¬†and they haven't even seen this film yet. Cut to Marky Mark, a high school teacher in Philly who is making his kids fail their SATs by filling their heads with nonsense about disappearing bees. Are the bees related? What do you think? When the news of this potential bio-terrorist attack hits the school, Marky decides for some reason to get on a train with his not-quite-clear-how-estanged …
Quick Tip by . November 23, 2009
Should've been called "The Crappening." Proves M. Night is a one-hit-wonder.
About the reviewer
Nathan Andersen ()
Ranked #28
I teach philosophy at Eckerd College, in Saint Petersburg, Florida.      I run an award-winning International Cinema series in Tampa Bay (, and am co-director of … more
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You'd expect the end of the world to be no day in the park, but in M. Night Shyamalan'sThe Happening, a day in the park is where the end begins. One otherwise peaceful summer morning, New Yorkers strolling in Central Park come to a halt in unison, then begin killing themselves by any means at hand. At a high-rise construction site a few blocks over, it's raining bodies as workers step off girders into space. And all the while, the city is so quiet you can hear the gentle breeze in the trees. That breeze carries a neurotoxin, and what or who put it there (terrorists?) is a question raised periodically as the film unfolds. But the question that really matters is how and whether anybody in the Middle Atlantic states is going to stay alive.The Happeningis Shyamalan's best film sinceThe Sixth Sense, partly because he avoids the kind of egregious misjudgment that derailedThe VillageandLady in the Water, but mostly because the whole thing has been structured and imagined to keep faith with the point of view of regular, unheroic folks confronted with a mammoth crisis. Focal characters are a Philadelphia high-school science teacher (Mark Wahlberg, excellent), his wife (Zooey Deschanel) and math-teacher colleague (John Leguizamo), and the latter’s little girl (Ashlyn Sanchez). Instinct says get out of the cities and move west; most of the film takes place in the delicately picturesque Pennsylvania countryside, with menace hovering somewhere in the haze. There are...
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Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: June 13, 2008
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: October 7, 2008
Runtime: 1hr 29min
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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