Before I even start talking about The Happening, I have to preface this review by saying that if you aren’t a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, you will probably hate the movie. There are so many anti-Shyamalan people out there (especially on the Internet) that it makes the Boll bashers look tame.
However, if you like the guy’s stuff, you will probably enjoy the film.
I happen to be a big fan of Shyamalan, so take this review with a grain of salt. That’s not an apology, but rather a disclosure. Ultimately, I don’t get bothered by all the things that he does in his movies that annoy some people.
With that said, I enjoyed The Happening. And with reflection, I enjoyed it more and more.
The film follows a group of people who are trying to escape a mysterious attack on the human race. In populated areas along the Eastern Seaboard, people are suddenly committing mass suicide – and choosing some pretty creative ways to do it. No one knows why this is happening. Theories run from terrorists to trees. The bottom line is that people are fleeing this event and being whittled down throughout the film.
The film is loaded with Shyamalan’s style. There are long, static shots, some even plucked from his other films (like the dolly through the parked cars shot in The Sixth Sense). There’s a lot of staring. There’s intense music with people in the middle of the Pennsylvanian countryside.
However, he has learned from his last movie (which I did like, by the way). He resisted the urge to give himself a huge cameo in the film. (He’s there, but you will probably miss him.) He also got his enormous ego a bit in check by not splattering his name all over the credits like a Tyler Perry movie.
For almost a decade, Shyamalan has been trying to live up to The Sixth Sense, and this film is a bit of a departure from that, which is good. The pacing is slow, like most of his films, but I’ve always felt he could pull that off.
At its heart, The Happening is a suspense film, and Shyamalan is a master of suspense. I know that sounds cheesy to say, but I stand behind it. I’m not saying he’s the new Hitchcock or anything, but the man knows how to make a creepy scene.
I do commend Shyamalan for changing things up a bit. Some of his techniques were obvious and used. Others, he baited the audience with and didn’t fall into old traps. Like The Sixth Sense, he shows his hand early but keeps everything deliberately ambiguous so as to not preach. (Of course, if you want preaching, you can find it, but there were enough unanswered questions at the end that I forgave him of that.)
As I watched The Happening happen, I couldn’t help but find myself on the edge of my seat. The movie was just damned creepy. Sure, there were moments of godawful dialogue and others that had line deliveries worthy of a student film, but the film definitely pushed the right buttons in the suspense department.
THE UPSIDE: Creepy. Creepy as hell.
THE DOWNSIDE: Some really bad acting and dialogue moments.
ON THE SIDE: On September 11, 2001, I was on a train from Newark to Penn Station, and I learned about the terrorist attacks via cell phone on that train. There’s a scene in The Happening with people on a train who start getting calls about an attack. The entire thing was eerily accurate and completely chilling. Shyamalan captured the essence of this perfectly.