Movie Review: “The Happening”

GoogleMy father is one of those infamous people for whom it is impossible to buy gifts. So, this father’s day, he relented and suggested that I take him to see The Happening.

I saw Signs, a previous movie by M. Night Shyamalan, who directed The Happening, and found it to be funny, atmospheric, at times absolutely frightening, and a pleasure to watch. I’ve never been a great fan of the horror genre, but there is something about Shyamalan’s films which is more engaging than the dross that usually gets placed in that genre.

The film begins in Central Park, where suddenly, people begin behaving strangely. In moments, there are people committing suicide in droves all over the city. Panic ensues, and an evacuation begins.

For the most part, The Happening follows Elliot (played by Mark Whalberg) and wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) as they attempt to survive the continuing onslaughts of suicide-inducing poisonous gas. The plot is realistic enough (even if the science is a little “approximate” for my tastes) to be engaging, but surreal enough to also be unnerving, and at times, quite funny.

But the plot isn’t what I really noticed about The Happening. What I really noticed was the fact that, at times during the movie, my heart rate began to edge up. From a twitchy, nervous guy like me, a movie that can get my heart going is really something. Even in the scenes where the outcome is obvious, there’s often a great deal of suspense.

Interleaved with the suspenseful scenes are the aforementioned surreal scenes. We see person after person sit down calmly and come up with bizarre and disturbing ways to do themselves in. The fact that there is no real enemy, that the enemy is your self-destructive tendencies, while a little disorienting, about doubles the creep factor.

The music helps this along a great deal. It’s unfortunate how little attention some films pay to their score, but that was not a problem with The Happening. Lonely piano and symphonic melodies underscore the surrealer and creepier moments, but the film isn’t afraid to use silence when necessary.

Still — and once again, the same is true for all the Shyamalan movies I’ve seen — there’s something slightly off about The Happening. It’s not exactly clear, but there’s a sort of strange, almost hallucinatory eeriness to the whole film. It’s hard to pin down, but at times, it can get distracting, and sometimes, it manifests directly, like in a particularly sadistic scene featuring a child and a shotgun. It doesn’t detract much (if any) from the film, but it does give one the feeling that Shyamalan is not the kind of person you’d like to sit next to on a long bus ride.

All in all, though, The Happening seems to be classic Shyamalan: the normal world backlit by strange and horrible circumstances. And although it starts to drag its feet a bit in the end, it’s still interesting, entertaining, truly scary, and very engaging. Worth seeing. Not worth buying any popcorn for, though. That shit’s gotten expensive!

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