The Happening (2008 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||M. Night Shyamalan|
|Written by||M. Night Shyamalan|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Conrad Buff|
|Box office||$163.4 million|
The Happening is a 2008 psychological science-fiction thriller film written, co-produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, and Betty Buckley. An Indian-American production, the film follows a group of four as they try to escape an inexplicable natural disaster.
The film is Shyamalan's first and so far only film to receive an R rating. It had its premiere in New York City on June 10, 2008, and was later released on June 13, 2008, in North America. It received generally negative reviews from critics and grossed $163 million worldwide against its $48 million production budget.
In New York City's Central Park, people begin dying by mass suicide. Initially believed to be caused by a bio-terrorist attack using an airborne neurotoxin, the behavior quickly spreads across the northeastern United States. High school science teacher Elliot Moore and his wife Alma are convinced by Elliot's mathematician colleague Julian to accompany him and his daughter Jess on a train out of Philadelphia. During the trip, the group learns that Boston and Philadelphia have also been affected. The train loses all radio contact and stops at a small town. When Julian learns that his wife has left Boston for Princeton, he decides to go look for her, and entrusts Jess to the Moores. However, Julian arrives to find Princeton has been affected, and he dies by suicide.
Elliot, Alma, and Jess hitch a ride with a nurseryman and his wife. The nurseryman theorizes that plant life has developed a defense mechanism against humans consisting of an airborne toxin that stimulates neurotransmitters and causes humans to kill themselves. The group is later joined by other survivors coming from various directions, and the small crowd chooses to avoid roads and populated areas. When the larger part of the group is affected by the toxin, Elliot suggests the nurseryman was right and that the plants are targeting only large groups of people. He splits their group into smaller pockets and they walk along. The trio ends up with a pair of teenage boys, Josh and Jared, who are later killed when Elliot unsuccessfully attempts to reason with the armed residents of a barricaded house.
Elliot, Alma and Jess wander the countryside and come upon the home of Mrs. Jones, an eccentric and paranoid elder. Jones initially agrees to house the group for the night but is suspicious of them having bad intentions; the next morning, she decides to expel them. In a fury, she leaves the house alone and is affected by the toxin. The shaken Elliot realizes that the plants are now targeting individuals. Left with no option when the woman strikes her head into several windows, the trio chooses to die and embraces in the yard only to find themselves unaffected by the toxin. The outbreak has abated as quickly as it began.
Three months later, Elliot and Alma have adjusted to their new life with Jess as their adopted daughter. On television, an expert, comparing the event to a red tide, warns that the epidemic may have only been a harbinger of an impending global disaster, but his theory is met with disbelief, with the interviewer reminding him that only the northeastern United States was affected. Alma learns she is pregnant, and surprises Elliot with the news at their front step.
- Mark Wahlberg as Elliot Moore, a Philadelphia high school science teacher
- Zooey Deschanel as Alma Moore, Elliot's wife
- John Leguizamo as Julian, a high school math teacher and Elliot's best friend
- Betty Buckley as Mrs. Jones, a woman who lives alone in an isolated house in rural Pennsylvania
- Ashlyn Sanchez as Jess, Julian's daughter
- Frank Collison as the owner of a nursery with his wife
- Victoria Clark as the owner of a nursery with her husband
- Jeremy Strong as Private Auster
- Brian O'Halloran as Jeep driver
- Alan Ruck as Principal
- Mara Hobel as Woman with hands over ears
- Joel de la Fuente as Realtor
- Spencer Breslin as Josh
- Robert Bailey, Jr. as Jared
- Charlie Saxton as Dylan
- M. Night Shyamalan as Joey (voice only)
- Roberto Lombardi as Father in Elliot's Group
- Mary Ellen Driscoll
In January 2007, M. Night Shyamalan submitted a spec script entitled The Green Effect to various studios, but none expressed interest enough to purchase it. Shyamalan collected ideas and notes from meetings, returning home to Philadelphia to "rewrite" it, and finally 20th Century Fox greenlit the project. Now titled The Happening, the film was produced by Shyamalan and Barry Mendel and was the former's first R-rated project. On March 15, 2007, Shyamalan described the film as "a paranoia movie from the 1960s on the lines of The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers". An India-based company, UTV, co-financed 50% of the film's budget and distributed it in India, while Fox took care of other territories.
Later in March, Wahlberg, with whom Shyamalan had been negotiating at the same time as his deal with Fox, was cast into the lead role of the US$57 million project. Shyamalan had previously cast Wahlberg's brother Donnie in The Sixth Sense.
Production began in August 2007 in Philadelphia, with filming on Walnut Street, in Rittenhouse Square Park, in Masterman High School, on South Smedley Street, and at the 'G' Lodge in Phoenixville. The release date was June 13, 2008, intentionally set for Friday the 13th to suit the thriller also filmed in Michigan.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 17% of 183 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 4.04/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Happening begins with promise, but unfortunately descends into an incoherent and unconvincing trifle." At Metacritic, the film scored a 34 out of 100 based on 38 reviews from mainstream critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
On June 7, 2008, days before the first few reviews for the film came online, Shyamalan told the New York Daily News: "We're making an excellent B movie, that's our goal". Some critics enjoyed it because of this. Glenn Whipp said, "Tamping down the self-seriousness in favor of some horrific silliness, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening plays as a genuinely enjoyable B-movie for anyone inclined (or able) to see it that way".
Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter said the film lacked "cinematic intrigue and nail-biting tension" and that "the central menace ... does not pan out as any kind of Friday night entertainment". Variety’s Justin Chang felt that it "covers territory already over-tilled by countless disaster epics and zombie movies, offering little in the way of suspense, visceral kicks or narrative vitality to warrant the retread". Mick LaSalle wrote in his San Francisco Chronicle review that he considered the film entertaining but not scary. He commented, too, on Shyamalan's writing, opining that, "instead of letting his idea breathe and develop and see where it might go, he jumps all over it and prematurely shapes it into a story". James Berardinelli said the film had neither "a sense of atmosphere" nor "strong character development"; he called its environmental message "way-too-obvious and strident," gave it a star and a half out of a possible four, and concluded his review by saying, "The Happening is a movie to walk out of, sleep through, or—best of all—not to bother with." Time’s Richard Corliss saw the film as a "dispiriting indication that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has lost the touch". The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips thought the film had a workable premise, but found the characters to be "gasbags or forgetful". Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal said that the film was a "woeful clunker of a paranoid thriller" and highlighted its "befuddling infelicities, insistent banalities, shambling pace and pervasive ineptitude".
Stephen King liked the film, stating: "Of Fox's two summer creepshows [the other being The X-Files: I Want to Believe], give the edge to The Happening, partly because M. Night Shyamalan really understands fear, partly because this time he's completely let himself go (hence the R rating), and partly because after Lady in the Water he had something to prove". Critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, awarding the movie three stars, found it "oddly touching": "It is no doubt too thoughtful for the summer action season, but I appreciate the quietly realistic way Shyamalan finds to tell a story about the possible death of man". William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called it "something different—and a pleasant surprise" among that summer's major Hollywood releases, and approved of its taking "the less-is-best approach." The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis praised Wahlberg's lead performance, adding that the film "turns out to be a divertingly goofy thriller with an animistic bent, moments of shivery and twitchy suspense". Philipa Hawker of The Age gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars, commenting on "the mood of the film: a tantalizing, sometimes frustrating parable about the menaces that human beings might face from unexpected quarters," drawing special attention to "the sound of the breeze and the sight of it ruffling the trees or blowing across the grass — an image of tension that calls to mind Antonioni's Blowup". Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "It almost dares you to roll your eyes or laugh at certain scenes that are supposed to be deadly serious. But, you know what, I appreciated this creatively offbeat, daring sci-fi mind-trip". Reviewer Rumsey Taylor said that the film moves forward with "jack-in-the-box suspense, traipsing from one garish death to another in a parade of cartoonish terror," and noted how the film seemed like "Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, only without the birds."
The Happening has also attracted academic attention. Joseph J. Foy, professor of politics and popular culture, describes Shyamalan's film as an expression of "post-environmentalism" in which traditional paradigmatic politics are replaced with a call for the world to "embrace a revolutionary reevaluation of wealth and prosperity not in terms of monetary net worth or material possessions, but in terms of overall well-being". Foy praises the highly complex narrative in which Shyamalan weaves contemporary environmental challenges with hard science and social theory to create a "nightmarish future that... may advance the type of dialogue that can truly change the cultural conversation".
Wahlberg offered his own opinion of The Happening in 2010, saying that Amy Adams, who was in consideration for the role of Alma Moore, had "dodged the bullet" by not starring in the film. He said, "It was a really bad movie... F**k it. It is what it is... You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook." About Wahlberg's reaction, Shyamalan said he is fine with his opinion: "Since that would be the only case of that happening — no. But really, no. It’s totally his call. However he wants to interpret it."
In 2019, Shyamalan said he takes some responsibility for the way the movie turned out: "I think it's a consistent kind of farce humor. You know, like The Blob. The campy, 1958 debut of actor Steve McQueen, featuring a mysterious, growing amoeba that takes over a small Pennsylvania town. The key to The Blob is that it just never takes itself that seriously. I think I was inconsistent. That's why they couldn't see it."
The Happening came in eighth in a 2010 poll by Empire magazine of "50 Worst Movies of All Time", and first in a 2012 poll by SFX magazine of "50 Worst Sci-fi & Fantasy Movies That Had No Excuse".
Re-evaluation as a B-movie of the 1950s
In 2016, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of AV Club said that it was "Patterned on the B movies of the early atomic age, the best of which could be sophisticated in everything except premise and acting, the movie swaps out radiation for climate change, but otherwise keeps to the template, complete with an ending in which a man in a suit explains everything that happened, but not really." He further stated "Sometimes, it mimics the goofiness of authentic ’50s B movies; this is one of those cases where the miscasting—namely, Mark Wahlberg as a Philadelphia science teacher who looks and talks like a football coach who’s been forced to sub sex ed—seems at least partly intentional. And yet, even with its non sequitur references to food (tiramisu, hot dogs, “lemon drink,” etc.) and its winks of self-parody (e.g., Wahlberg talking to a plastic plant), The Happening is a movie that a lot of people presume is trying and failing to be taken seriously. And maybe it is." He further summarized that "... in The Happening, everything is premised on the assumption that life is meaningless—a deep anxiety that informs the movie’s abstracted scare scenarios, but is also hidden behind camp. It’s not incoherent, but it’s often hard to read. It’s a genuine curio, not entirely successful, and if you subscribe to the old auteurist line of movies being both expressions and entertainment objects, it’s both too self-consciously silly and too personal to dismiss." 
On its 10th year anniversary, Jeff Spry of Syfy said that M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening is a better B movie 10 years later. He summarized that "The Happening contains some genuinely moving sequences, gruesome slaughter, a few intimate moments that truly resonate, and some laugh-out-loud scenes that defy explanation (see: a confused man is being eaten by hungry lions). While it's overacted in many spots and completely bonkers in others, it's a fascinating mix of eco-didacticism, post 9/11 trauma, spaced-out Zooey Deschanel, Cabbage Patch doll jokes, mood rings, math riddles, hot dog love, and silly, unsophisticated screenwriting based on shaky pseudo-science."
In 2018, Craig Lines of Den of Geek said that "Just about every aspect of The Happening is a defiance of expectation. It uses the tropes of classic disaster/survival B-Movies (Shyamalan clearly knows his classics) but inverts them. The pacing of the film, for example, moves in reverse. It starts off quite fraught and slows down further and further as it goes on. By the time it reaches its (anti)climax, it’s become almost motionless with fewer words, longer takes, extended periods of stillness and silence; a vastness you can almost feel." He summarized that "The script here is so carefully constructed, so multi-layered and so rhythmic it’s almost poetry. The fact that much of the dialogue was deemed simply ridiculous by audiences saddens me because every word feels so perfectly in place." 
On its 10th year anniversary, Chris Evangelista of Slashfilm noted that the film deserved to be recognized as a B-Movie classic. He said that "It’s time to embrace the movie for what it really is: an intentionally goofy, highly entertaining B-movie that should be celebrated for its own stupid charms rather than mercilessly mocked and scorned."
In 2020, Lindsay Traves of Bloody Disgusting said that it was a deadpan comedy in disguise featuring numerous trope parodies and summarised that "The Happening gave us a film that wasn’t about any real killer, but hinted it might be about nationalism, post 9/11 fears and American paranoia. Then it dared us to ask if we should take it seriously." 
In 2020, Scott Mendelson of Forbes, summarized that "The Happening is unique unto itself, is rarely boring and has aged well in terms of being a bonkers/original premise delivered with a relatively straight-face (and just a hint of knowing camp). At its core, the Mark Wahlberg/Zooey Deschanel sci-fi chiller is essentially 'What if one of our more genuinely talented directors made a big-budget, R-rated Ed Wood movie?' Shyamalan is nothing if not sincere, and while he’s attempting a modern-day version of a 1950’s sci-fi warning movie, the film is absolutely invested in its mother nature is tired of humanity’s bullshit premise."
Box office performance
On its opening day, The Happening grossed US$13 million. Over the weekend, the total gross came in at US$30,517,109 in 2,986 theaters in the United States and Canada, averaging to about US$10,220 per venue, and ranking #3 at the box office, behind The Incredible Hulk and Kung Fu Panda. Foreign box office gross for opening weekend was an estimated US$32.1 million.
As of August 2020, the DVD units sold have generated over US$22.4 million in revenue.
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