The Happening


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Happening
"This film basically consists of some worried looking people running about a bit and hoping that the bad things will all go away."

Disaster movies have always been a favourite of mine. The panic, the drama, the OTT scenarios - the general willingness to do and say entirely unreasonable things and justify them as 'realism'. So when I heard that M Night Shyamalan's latest would involve an 'event' which just might herald the end of the world, I quite looked forward to it. Unfortunately, this movie is a disaster of another kind.

The 'event' itself is an interesting one. It starts in Central Park, where, en masse, people stop what they're doing, become confused, and proceed to kill themselves. There's talk of some kind of neurotoxin in the air and everybody assumes that terrorists are involved. Cut to a nearby building site where workers begin to leap from the scaffolding. Featuring a fine turn from Cornell Womack as the horrified foreman, this is one of the film's few genuinely moving scenes. But Mr Womack is not a star, and the film's stars don't make that kind of effort.

Copy picture

There's an inherent flaw in this film which somebody ought to have figured out before filming started. It tells a story in which the first sign of danger is people getting confused, and it stars Mark Wahlberg. There are several scenes in which it is actually difficult to tell if he's been affected or if he's just doing his thinking face, and this doesn't seem to be intentional. Zooey Deschanel, so impressive in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, is wasted as his unhappy wife Alma; struggling with dreadful material she spends much of her time gurning, and every time she begins to demonstrate what she's really capable of she is shunted aside and left to be nurturing in the background. The object of this nurturing is a friend's child, Jess, played by Ashlyn Sanchez, who is the only one of the main actors who makes any kind of positive impression. M Night Shyamalan is an excellent director of child actors. Maybe he should become a primary school teacher. As a film director, he seems to have nothing left to say.

There really is nothing said at all during the course of this film, which basically consists of some worried looking people running about a bit and hoping that the bad things will all go away. Its vague environmentalist pretensions are the tackiest since The Day After Tomorrow, and not nearly as much fun. If it's trying to stand up for science then the heavy helping of mysticism and the romanticisation of nature really don't help. And if we're supposed to be horrified by the fact that people might be callous toward one another, well, that deep revelation about human nature is rather undermined by Shyamalan's quaint naivety about the average person's ability to cope with simple maths.

In the midst of all this, there are a few sharply written lines, some well judged minor performances, some attractive (albeit entirely inappropriate) choreography, and some pretty shots of landscapes. But that's not really much in exchange for an hour and a half of your time, never mind the ticket price. Give it a miss. Move along. There's really nothing to see, folks - nothing happening here.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2008
Share this with others on...
The Happening packshot
After people spontaneously begin to kill themselves in big cities, a few survivors go on the run.
Amazon link

Director: M Night Shyamalan

Writer: M Night Shyamalan

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Betty Buckley, Spencer Breslin, Robert Bailey Jr., Frank Collison, Jeremy Strong, Alan Ruck, Victoria Clark

Year: 2008

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, India


Search database:

If you like this, try:

The Birds