Review: The Happening

Published 7 years ago by , Updated June 28th, 2008 at 8:39 am,

Short version: If you’re in the mood for an absurd film that alternates between boring and comedy, this is the movie for you.

the happening girl Review: The HappeningI thought The Sixth Sense was awesome. I loved Unbreakable. I thought Signs was OK, except for the premise of aliens allergic to water invading a planet 2/3 covered by it. I didn’t hate The Village, but I thought Lady in the Water was terrible.

Are you seeing a trend there? Well guess what, it hasn’t been broken.

I don’t know how reviews for M. Night Shyamalans’s The Happening are going to roll, but this one isn’t going to be pretty.

Going in, I was hopeful that this might actually turn out to be decent, despite what I had heard regarding the ultimate plot of the film. I even hoped that maybe that was a new twist by Shyamalan – misdirection outside the confines of the movie itself… but sadly this was not the case. It is indeed as absurd as I had feared.

The film opens rather abruptly, not really giving the audience any time to get to know anyone. We’re in Central Park in New York City, watching a couple of attractive twenty-something women (presumably on a lunch break) sitting on a bench enjoying the day, chit-chatting about whatever. One of them hears what she thinks is a faint scream off in the distance, and asks her friend if she heard it. The friend who was normal a second earlier, starts to seem disoriented, having lost her place in the book she’s reading, and begins repeating this. When the other woman looks up and sees everyone within view frozen in their tracks, and then they start to walk slowly backwards (which I thought was weird).

Her pal then pulls what looks like a long knitting needle out of her hair (it was holding her hair in a bun), and proceeds to do something rather unpleasant to herself with it. From there we cut across the city and see people committing suicide en masse. One thing I’ll say I was impressed with: finally someone showed a realistic depiction of what someone who’s fallen from a great height looks like when they hit the ground. It’s not comfortable to look at (remember, this is Shyamalan’s first R-rated film).

We soon meet mild mannered science teacher Elliot Moore, played by Mark Wahlberg. He’s so low key he’s likely to put his students to sleep, but is witty enough to coax an answer to a science question from the class “hunk.” Soon the faculty is gathered to hear what’s going on in NYC (they’re in Philadelphia) and that school will be dismissed. Among the faculty is a math teacher played by John Leguizamo.

Elliot is having wife troubles and mistakenly confides in his pal who is not a master of subtlety when he comes face to face with her (the ever-ephemeral and doe-eyed Zooey Deschanel). Anyway, it seems that whatever hit NYC (it’s assumed to be a terrorist attack) seems to be also affecting other cities, so they decide to get out of town by train.

Things rapidly get out of control as whatever is happening spreads to more and more cities and towns, eventually leaving our intrepid band (including the little girl in the image above) stranded in some nowhere town. How far will it spread and when will it end? No one knows.

The Happening is slow-moving, as M. Night’s movies tend to be, but aside from one scene in an old house that actually gave me the creeps for a few moments, there is no payoff. At least none that won’t leave you rolling your eyes and possibly laughing out loud. I know Wahlberg is a good actor – I’ve seen him deliver a good performance in other films, but here he’s so washed out and hokey that he’s hard to look at in some scenes.

At the most general level, one might cut the story concept some slack, but the devil is in the details here – ascribing sentience and the ability to communicate instantaneously to the source of this pandemic to a degree that is simply ludicrous. There was one scene in particular where I just had to laugh out loud… when they’re trying to stay away from whatever it is that’s causing people to kill themselves and Wahlberg says “We have to stay ahead of the wind!”

How in the hell does one “stay ahead of the wind,” exactly?

It gets more ridiculous as it goes on, and when we get to the end and we hear one scientist’s speculation on what happened all I could think was “Oh, PLEASE.”

The opening credits state: Written/Produced/Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, so I guess the buck stops there. Personally, I think the guy is done unless he lowers his level of hubris and starts collaborating with others.

Unless you’re anyone but the most rabid environmentalist, I just can’t see folks thinking this is anything but a very silly movie.

Our Rating:

1 out of 5

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. haha, thanks for the review Vic.

    I wonder what M. Night will do next. I’ve personally really enjoyed all of his movies except lady in the water, which I probably will never finish watching because of how terrible everyone says it is and the fact that its out of his twisty style.

    I think I’ll see this on $5 Tuesdays next week.

  2. I’ve always wondered why all the hate for Signs and the whole aliens are allergic to water thing and the love for War of the Worlds (old or new) when it was practically the same thing with aliens unable to survive in out atmosphere?

  3. It is as I suspected.

    As Vic said, if he finds some humility out of all this when it bombs (and going up against the much more anticipated Incredible Hulk this week, Get Smart next, and the final clincher, Wall-E the week after – it will drop like a rock) then he can start building his rep back.

    I think this was Hollywood’s attempt to give him one last shot to redeem himself, the last of the goodwill he earned with Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. He’s going to have to start earning new ones now, by directing other peoples’ stories and screenplays for a while, and he’s going to have to knock them out of the park.

    I personally think he’s capable of this. I’ve always admired his visual style and skill with the camera.

  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is way, way too similar to the plot of one of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comics. M. Night Shyamalan = Floronic Man?

  5. I did want to see this but reading this I may not.

  6. I’m not particularly surprised by the negative reviews for this movie. Hating Shyamalan has been a fad in the critic world since they mistakenly advertised The Village as a horror flick. If staying ahead of the wind isn’t being nit-picky, I don’t know what is.

  7. Jesse,

    You DID read my opening paragraph, right?

    I’m not a “hater.” I just thing he’s gotten full of himself and his films have in fact gotten progressively worse.



  8. Not sure of everything M. Night Shyamalans is working on but he is going to be doing the live action Avatar:The Last Airbender movie based on the amazing Nickelodeon cartoon.

  9. Oh, man! I have a free movie voucher and was going to use it to watch this. but after Vic’s review, I don’t know if I should waste it on this.

  10. ive seen the trailer and to me it looks terrible. i like the fact there running from wind hahaha!

  11. The only one of his films I thought was worth a damn was SIGNS, due partly to Gibson, and the fact there was really no ‘twist’ ending, which I found refreshing.

  12. a friend of mine made a comment about The village that I found quite true -

    “if it was an independent film from nowhere, it would have been decent. The M. Knight Hype killed it”

    The plot of The Happening just sounds stupid though

  13. And to think, the ads made it look interesting, which by the way, seemed a wee bit overboard. Try explaining to little kids why people are falling off the roof and laying down in front of a Combine or whatever that big green farm thing was.

  14. Bruce

    I don`t think little kids should be watching this type of film…It is an R-rated…I don`t even think they should be watching the trailer IMHO.


  15. greenknight333: My oops. I sometimes leave words off because obviously everyone knows what I mean! Right?

    I was actually referencing the ads we’ve been seeing on TV. They seem a little more graphic suggesting than most.

  16. I think your giving the film two stars was generous. It deserved one, or even a half. The suicides were one thing, but when the characters figure out that plants are causing this, they run right into rural america and out into a field. Brilliant!

  17. Brian, yeah – sometimes I think that I over compensate on both ends… I worry I’m being too harsh on crappy movies and then I worry I’ll be too generous on movies in my favorite genre (Iron Man & Hulk for example).


  18. Please don’t waste your money on this movie like I did, it really was terrible. I’m surprised they didn’t have Al Gore do a P.S.A. at the begining telling us the about the dangers of global warming…considering they told us what “The Happening” was about 45 minutes into the movie was. Kung Fu Panda was 100 times better than this garbage and I’m 25. DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY.

  19. omg the worst movie i have seen. im not just saying that. the acting was so bad and every single person in the theater was laughing. and the wind, plants and trees! r u kidding?

  20. I do have to say this. The movie had a lot of intentional humor that worked very well. However, the cause and explanation of what was happening in the film came much too early. It would have worked much better if it was in the last act.

    It is hard to gauge the quality of this film seeing it only once because the theater I saw it at had the film bracketed improperly and the boom mic was extremely visible in about half the scenes. The subtitles which gave locations and time of day were halfway off the bottom. I complained right away, but they didn’t know how to rebracket it and had to call in a mechanic to fix it.

    Also, I felt the film was actually mocking environmentalists in that it was so ridiculous. It felt like he was saying some people might actually believe this could happen. He made people who bought the theory that plants caused it look really fanatical.

  21. One of the worst movies I have ever seen. As stated earlier Vic, I think your 2 star is about 1 and a half too high. Thank God I saw Hulk right after this one to erase the memory of it. I think the twist was the audience wanting to kill themselves for sitting through it.

  22. Yeah, the more I think about it the more I think I should have knocked off at LEAST half a star…


  23. Just got back from seeing this so called ‘movie’. How did it even get 2 stars. This is by far the worse horror movie ever made, somply put, I wasted a good £6 to watch an hour + of bad acting.

    I was a big fan of The Village and The Sixth Sense, but oh my gosh-woggles, this sucked to the D.

    A tad of a rant, but seriously, what a waste of good money. Don’t go see it, I’d say wait for the DVD, but I wouldn’t even do that.

  24. Sounds like Shyamalan is auditioning for next director for the SciFi channels’ infamous movie of the weekend line up??
    That’s a shame. Looks Like “Robot Chicken” is going to get some more mileage out of parodies of his movies!
    BUT who’s worse, him or his backers??

    I will say this about the general subject matter of this film. Over the last 20 years for some strange reason their has been a dramatic increase in problems with allergies, asthma, and strange food related disease. Witness the latest issue with uncooked prepacked tomatoes and E-coli or mad cow concerns here in the U.S. The subject has potential. We’re really only 7-8 food allergies away from total starvation! I have 4 myself.

  25. I agree there have been some strange food allergies but I think we, as humans, has had more to do with it than plants suddenly becoming a sentient network of revenge. I think in the next 15 years we will find that preservatives and other chemicals we use in food will be a main cause of a lot of health problems we are facing today.

  26. But the message is the same… “we have met the enemy and he is Us.”_POGO

    For a much better story than Shyamalan’s read “The Green Brain.”

  27. I must be a glutton for punishment. I tried using my free voucher but had to wait 10 days after the movie opened, which meant I couldn’t go see Hulk again. Vic, if I ever mistrust your reviews again, please smack me on the head. :-)

    I don’t get Shamylyn (or however you spell his name); was he trying for a comedy or a thriller, because I couldn’t figure out which way he was going. For about 30 minutes, the movie had me intrigue but that didn’t last. As Vic said, the suicides were very graphic, so if you are squeemish, stay out. What am I saying; if you want a good movie; stay out. There was no real reason for what was happening, only conjecture; and the ending just sucked.

  28. I think that Night should have gone a little deeper and longer than the 1 1/2 hour towards a completely different explanation of the happening at the end. It would then have been an extremely good movie. Different from this crap!

  29. what a joke…wouldn’t have given this garbage a star at all! Just plain wrong that this was ever allowed in the theaters.