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 apocalyptic thriller film written, co-produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, and Betty Buckley. 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. His hypothesis is confirmed when the group is joined by other survivors, who suggest avoiding roads and populated areas. When the larger part of the group is affected by the toxin, Elliot realizes that the plants are targeting only large groups of people. He splits their group into smaller pockets and they walk along. Elliot befriends a pair of teenage boys, Josh and Jared, but they 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 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, and chooses to die with Alma and Jess. The three embrace in the yard and are surprised 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 18% of 176 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 4/10. 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's fine about 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".
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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