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M. Night Shyamalan's latest, an ecological thriller, will definitely not sit well with everyone. While high on suspense, the film mixes comedy and terror so much that at some point, we get confused whether we're suppose to laugh, scream or cry. And that makes it a very, very strange piece of work.

Shyamalan has already proven that he can create tense moments like Hitchcock with his take on alien invasion in Signs. If anything, The Happening shares the same kind of suspenseful atmosphere as that film, and there's nary a moment when you can guess what's going to happen next.

Once again, as with many thrillers of recent times, the ghost of 9-11 stands ominously over the proceedings here, especially in the sequence of bodies crashing to the ground from a building. Mark Wahlberg plays a school science teacher who has to keep his wife and a friend's daughter alive when a wave of suicides sweep across the east coast in what everyone initially thinks is a terrorist attack. As time goes on, it becomes clear that there might be more to the "event" than just an airborne toxin released by terrorists.

The first half of the movie builds the suspense to an incredible, almost unbearable degree, but much of it is also offset by some comedy, mostly intentional fortunately. But in the second half, it becomes noticeable that this is one single idea stretched a bit too far. The characters keep running, keep ending up in strange places and meeting quirky characters. While I've always loved the character developments in Shyamalan's films, how he gradually introduces them to us and ultimately ups our emotional connection to them, we don't quite feel we know Wahlberg's and Zooey Deschanel's troubled husband and wife any better towards the end. They're like just another couple among the groups of people trying to escape the environmental horror that's creeping up on them. Part of the problem is that we don't get to see them interact with each other much, because Shyamalan is more involved in creating the feel of an epic threat to humankind, rather than two people trying to fix things between them and pushed into a corner by an outside threat.

But oh what a gripping storyteller Shyamalan is. He knows just how much to hold back from the audience and when to do it. His roaming camera manages to lead us on a leash, and allow things to suddenly pounce on us from a previously hidden angle when we least expect it. Or he shows us the effect but belatedly reveals the cause. Nice. And this being his first R-rated movie, there's quite a number of grisly and graphic deaths. But the comedy and thriller aspects of the film sit together not quite comfortably, yet they create a strange quirky dramatic order to things.

But all the good stuff doesn't take away the fact that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. It makes you wonder what Shyamalan's original script, The Green Effect, was like before he had to make alterations until it became The Happening, to get the studios interested in it.

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Simon AbramsJune 10, 2008 10:53 PM

I'm afraid to ask we find out that it's nature's way of killing Americans because they're gus-guzzling jerks that are killing the planet?

Because if so....I will RELUCTANTLY hand over my twelve bucks. Because, damn, how many times will I see actors saying a variation on the words "happening" in a film except here?

Seriously, how many times do they say it in one form or another in the trailer, from voiceover or written transitions to the title in the trailer to actual character dialogue? How many, I ask!?

Simon AbramsJune 11, 2008 2:39 AM

That Mr. Glass was the bad guy all along, no?

pikasso5June 11, 2008 3:38 AM

Unbreakable was fantastic. So he's disappointed a few times, but he set his own bar pretty high. I think the twist was ultimately that they became Hero and Villain.

MikeJune 11, 2008 3:39 AM


The VisitorJune 11, 2008 8:37 AM

Shyamalan cant write a good story or characters? i have to completely disagree. his characters are not walking cliches but realistic human beings with realistic flaws. and some of the most moving scenes in cinema:

mother and son in the car, finally bridging the communication gap

son in tears at the breakfast table, realising his father is not the loser he thought he was

boy finally gets the courage to tell the blind girl that he likes her, on the porch of her house at night

ChevalierAguilaJune 11, 2008 9:35 AM

Nope, they're not well developed or interesting characters at all, just part of the whole gimmicks/sentimental fest that Shyamalan builds around them.

SwarezJune 11, 2008 1:31 PM

That Mr. Glass was the "bad guy" was not a twist, it was quite obvious from the start. Superhero movies need villains and he was the only character that was angry and brooding all the time, of course he's the villain, that's no twist, that's convention.

swampthingJune 11, 2008 4:00 PM

Swarez> That might have been obvious to comic book fans, but not to the general public. I believed that it looked like Glass was his mentor, rather than his enemy. (Sorry it didn't leave that much of an impression on me.)

But from Unbreakable onwards, the twists grew increasingly barmy. They totally destroyed the structure of the story.

SwarezJune 11, 2008 10:57 PM

If you count Unbreakable as a twist then he's only used one other twist and that was in The Village, there was no twist in Signs or Lady in the Water.
The Happening started showing here today and I sort of want to see it. His films always look fantastic and are usually great the first two acts then completely fall apart.

Rintrah13June 13, 2008 2:37 AM

You could consider the fact that all it took was a little bit of water to annihilate and entire alien race in the signs as a twist, albeit a pretty lame one. Even though it was otherwise a great film.