The Happening (2008)

It’s always been said that an animal always knows when it’s about to die. And sometimes even humans can. So… are these apocalypse movies merely our perpetual fear of impending doom brought on by forces of nature? Or do we know something that we’re not yet willing to admit? Frankly, it’s nearly impossible for me to not enjoy a movie about the end of humanity (or civilization for that matter), so “The Happening” was an instant win. Pair that with the great cast, the brilliant story, and the taut ecological commentary brushed under the senseless sudden self-extermination of man kind and you have what I consider one of the finest movies of 2008.

For me, I had the source of the apocalypse ruined for me months ago. But that didn’t stop me from loving what Shyamalan handled with his hard R rating. And once you see the trailers, it’s pretty obvious what is causing this. As for why, and how? That’s thankfully left ambiguous and up for debate when the credits roll even after it’s pretty clear what has occurred, but Shyamalan’s message to us is loud and clear. Man kind doesn’t have a far ways off to go before we disappear off the face of the Earth like the bees. Because if anything, he wants us to mind the quote from Albert Einstein prominently featured in the foregrounds and background: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Shyamalan doesn’t just want to bring us in to the happening, he wants to let us know that it’s happening as we live and breath. M. Night Shyamalan’s post-apocalyptic horror film is disturbing in ways I didn’t think were possible as his version of our extinction begins with a series of bodily functions that inevitably cause us to basically extinguish ourselves through our own wills, and the random accounts of suicide are shocking with one particular suicide taking place in a zoo. That’s all I can say. I’m trying anxiously to prevent spoilers here, so pardon my broad strokes of critique; suffice it to say I was infuriated with how easily he was able to leave me gasping and covering my eyes. Is it the final act of global warming? Perhaps a terrorist attack?

One can only really guess as Shyamalan perfectly paces his story to dive directly into an onslaught of grizzly death that then segues into subtle hints of what is causing the end of civilization. What would happen if the most docile of all our planet’s life forms turned against us? Even more wrenching to consider: is this all really such a fantastic impossible occurrence capable in the confines of fiction? You must wonder. Damnit, say what you want about Shyamalan but when I want a great story I still hope for a new film from him. Sure, he pushes some of his religious beliefs proclaiming science isn’t the be all and end all of our reality, that there’s perhaps something more powerful at work, but “The Happening” is just such an incredible work of madness that pulls no punches.

And what only contributes to the collective gut punch that is Shyamalan’s premise is that he provides us with interesting facts and prophetic explanations that adds a coherence and logic to his concept, just when you think he’s completely off his rocker. Wahlberg’s performance as a bewildered school teacher may seem flawed to many, but Wahlberg competently conveys the feelings of bewilderment and horror this seemingly sensible man feels when up against an amazing occurrence, while Zooey Deschanel plays well off him as this woman who has to come to grips with the prospect that life as they know it is about to be snuffed out.

This is Shyamalan not trying to put up a show for us, and “The Happening” works as an effective and brutally horrifying antithesis to the usual explosive summer fare. Like the end of man, “The Happening” is quiet, powerful, and ultimately ponderous requiem. I will gladly debate the quality of Shyamalan’s vicious view of humanity’s end in to the ground with any movie geek out there, and I will continue standing by my opinion that this is an incredible rebound from M. Night Shyamlan, a man, a storyteller, and a filmmaker who continues to overwhelm me. Allowing this man to display violence only adds to his ability to shock and infuriate us. I loved it. I loved it. I’ll keep saying it, if you want.