The Happening (15)



SciFi (2008)
90mins US

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Writer(s): M Night Shyamalan
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Philadelphia high school teacher Elliot Moore learns of a series of chilling episodes in major American cities via the news. People are committing suicide en masse and no one is sure of the cause: a terrorist attack, an invisible toxic weapon, otherworldly interference? Consumed with fear, Elliot heads for the safety of the Pennsylvanian farmlands with his estranged wife Alma, teacher friend Julian and his eight-year-old daughter Jess. However, they all quickly realise that nothing can stop the invisible killer that seems destined to wipe out mankind.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Happening

As M Night Shyamalan's contemporary paranoia thriller enters its overwrought final act, Mark Wahlberg stares dumbfounded at the camera and gasps, "Can this really be happening?" The leading man whimpers for us all because this apocalyptic tale of survival is laughable and preposterous...

Fox UK FilmThe white-knuckle tension, which Shyamalan generates in a tour-de-force opening ten minutes, evaporates the instant the characters open their mouths. Unthinkably, the writer-director shoots most scenes uncomfortably close-up so there is no escape from the look of terror etched on actors' faces as they muse the shape of hot dogs, the sexual politics of sharing tiramisu or ulterior motives for purchasing cough syrup.

Opening scenes in Central Park and surrounding areas of New York are truly unsettling, and as long as the film clings to delicious ambiguities - are the deaths the result of a terrorist attack, radiation from a nuclear accident, a botched government experiment? - we're willing to grant Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt. However, as soon as he declares what forces are really at work here, bringing about mankind's day of reckoning, we lose all interest.

Fox UK FilmShyamalan has consistently toyed with and subverted our expectations, and The Happening will certainly shock and surprise audiences who enjoyed his earlier films including The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Village, though not in a good way. It's rather apt that the film should be released on Friday 13th - unlucky for anyone who buys a ticket.

A series of chilling and bizarre episodes in major American cities leads to mass suicide. Panic sweeps the nation as terrified residents clamour for answers. Philadelphia high school teacher Elliot Moore (Wahlberg) learns of the crisis via the news and heads into the Pennsylvanian farmlands with his therapist wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) to outrun the impending danger. The couple takes mathematics teacher Julian (John Leguizamo) and his eight-year-old daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) with them. As they head into the countryside, Elliot and his fellow travellers meet more survivors, all desperate for news. They quickly realise that nothing can stop the invisible killer which seems destined to wipe out the entire human race.

Fox UK FilmThe Happening uses a high school principal (Ruck) as a crude mouthpiece to distil the facts and spark Elliot's escape. "There appears to be an event happening," he tells the teaching staff. "The first stage is loss of speech, the second stage is physical disorientation, the third stage is fatal." Catastrophe quickly engulfs the central protagonists, leading to some comical death scenes like a man laying down in front of a lawn mower, and a final standoff at a farmhouse owned by an old lady (Betty Buckley) who is even more cuckoo than the plot. Wahlberg and Deschanel have never been more wooden, and a superfluous coda fans the flames of enmity between America and France. "Mon dieu!" indeed, to echo the film's last words.

- Jo Planter


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