It’s hard to think how close we as a species are to total annihilation, sure we have mitigated the modern dangers that befell our ancestors, but secured in our concrete fortresses a lot of those dangers have felt quaint, almost eradicated. But these unknowable terrors are still out there and this is what M Night Shyamalan depicts in his 2008 film, The Happening.
The film starts typically enough, in New York’s Central Park, on a banal weekday morning, until the occupants start acting bizarre, acting forgetful, with the majority standing or place, some walk backwards, it is unbearably eerie until immediately after a wide range of near-instant suicides break out. We follow a high school chemistry teacher, his estranged wife, his best friend and his daughter as they try to escape this disease, but where can you run if this phenomenon can emerge from anywhere?
The Happening manages to maintain an unsettling atmosphere throughout as we, the audience are trying to work out, just exactly what is going on? A multitude of theories are presented, another Terrorist attack perhaps? (with the Twin Towers tragedy just a couple of years ago), The film shows off the rising survival instinct and paranoia that surrounds unspeakable tragedies like this, as well as how quickly society declines as a result. It is effective in its blunt depictions, with characters we get to know seeking out the most horrific ways to kill themselves, the camera rarely pans away. There’s an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and there’s no guarantee of survival, amplifying the terror.
Mark Wahlberg is an interesting casting choice as a high school science professor, and he plays the role with a certain charm despite the role going against his action-star type, accompanying him is the wide-eyed Zooey Deschanel playing Wahlberg’s wife. Wahlberg and Deschanel have a really unusual & unique chemistry (no pun intended) Alongside the strained couple, is John Leguizamo playing Wahlberg’s friend and the school’s maths teacher. Leguizamo is on fine form here and it’s great to see his transition from his role as “The Pest” eleven years previously (that will be a topic for another review later on.)
With an interesting style, characters, and plot, The Happening utilises its hour and a half running time really well. It’s a film that’s not afraid to play with your emotions, it’s blunt, it’s efficiently terrifying, and a heck of a good popcorn flick. The Happening is a film that gets right at you, it strikes at you and doesn’t explain why, much like the titular event itself.
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