The Happening (2008) – M. Night Shyamalan

 

The Sci-Fi Chronicles continues its foray into the works of M. Night Shyamalan, and if Unbreakable didn’t disappoint you (and honestly I still like that one after all these years), this one was bound to. I think, this one would have worked so much better as a novel, expand out the characters, add a real sense of menace, because some things play better in the mind than onscreen, and it would have given the writer/director a bigger opportunity to convey the story, the message, and the possible terror.

Unfortunately, they went with a movie instead, and while the idea may be intriguing, it’s not executed well at all, and one wonders how it could have been made better to convey the sense of terror that a book about this very subject would be.

Mark Wahlberg is Elliot Moore, a science teacher in a Philadelphia high school who tries to ingrain the scientific method into the minds of his students. His personal life is a bit of a mess though (and a novel could have expanded on this so much more), his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel) has some issues and has trouble expressing things in public.

Things take a turn for the worse, not just for them, but the entire eastern seaboard, when, what is thought to be a terrorist biological attack in New York causes people to behave erratically, and confused before killing themselves. And, whatever it is, seems to be spreading!

It seems a natural airborne pathogen has been created, and it overrides human survival instincts. This causes immense panic, and everyone attempts to flee their respective cities, heading for isolated areas, Elliot’s friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) join them as they make their run for safety.

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But is there anywhere that can be considered safe, especially when the ‘reveal’ uncovers what is really going on? And once again, something like what happens in this film could have totally worked in a well-written book, but it just doesn’t work on film because you’re asking the viewer to buy into too much, where in a book, you can build on things, tweak things, make them more menacing. It just doesn’t work here.

I’m not saying Shyamalan can’t be a good story-teller, he can, we’ve seen it, but perhaps he shouldn’t make every idea that passes through his mind into a film (Lady in the Water anyone?). Maybe he should write a collection of stories, or a novel, or have someone ghost write it for him…

While Wahlberg is likable as a teacher, he’s actually really enjoyable in the role, and ended up being the only character I actually bought into in this film, I’m not sure what Deschanel is up to. Usually I enjoy her performances, and I quite like her as an actress, and while I know her character is supposed to be a bit disconnected, if the audience can’t find a way in, they sure as hell aren’t going to care about what happens to her.

Oh well.

Happily I just have to make it through one more Shyamalan film before moving on to the next section…

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