Mother Nature Means Business
When filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is at the top of his game, his movies not only scare the socks off me, they also give me something to think about. The Happening succeeds on both counts, proving he’s back in the Zone after a serious lapse with Lady in the Water. This time, there’s more than fear itself to be afraid of. We’re talking about an ecological event with the potential to bring about the end of mankind. Now I have to add airborne dangers to my list of things Shyamalan wants me to be wary of, which already includes brittle bones, dead people, crop circles, aliens and community experiments!
As usual, Shyamalan focuses on ordinary people trying to survive bizarre situations. Mark Wahlberg (Shooter) plays the film’s Everyman, Elliot Moore, who teaches high school in Philadelphia. This turns out to be an excellent casting choice, for Wahlberg shows an uncanny ability to make us care about what happens to his character, a man struggling to decide how to save himself, his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and a darling little girl (Ashlyn Sanchez) under their care.
Will Elliot’s scientific background help him figure out why a mysterious substance appears to be attacking humans in certain geographic areas and making them commit suicide in the most horrible ways? Will he be able to find a safe haven from this ecological disaster? We desperately want Elliot to be successful, even though we know it might be impossible, considering the nature of the strange “happening.” And we're more than willing to "give him a minute" in his most frantic scene.
Known for including haunting images in his films, Shyamalan makes even simple things like grass gently flowing in the breeze appear dangerous and creepy here. James Newton Howard’s (The Village) ominous music adds to the suspense of these scenes, as does Tak Fujimoto’s (Signs) foreboding cinematography.
Everything works together in The Happening to drown us in despair, but it’s done with great artistry. Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from Betty Buckley (Tender Mercies,) who delivers a terrific supporting performance as a mysterious woman with serious trust issues. And Deschanel (Elf) manages to contribute a bit of welcome humor with her character’s concern about cellphone calls from a secret admirer. However, John Leguizamo (Assault on Precinct 13), Spencer Breslin (Raising Helen) and Robert Bailey Jr. (Bubble Boy) are wasted in throwaway roles -- Leguizamo as Wahlberg’s worried best friend, Breslin and Bailey as teens who suffer from appearing in the film’s only wrong-note sequence.
While The Happening may not be Shyamalan’s best movie (how can he top Sixth Sense?), it’s his most provocative one. Why? Because it deals with the future of the human race. After seeing this film, I can’t stop thinking about the power of Mother Nature and our vulnerability in the wake of natural “happenings” we can’t predict or control. Now that’s really scary.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox and rated “R” for violence and disturbing images.)
For more infomation about this movie, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.