Out of the my top ten of 2008, without a doubt one of my favorites of that year was M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening.” Why? Well, it’s been a point of contention for quite some time now that’s granted me unabashed scrutiny and question toward the state of sanity, but as I sit here thinking it over, “The Happening” is one of my favorite Shyamalan films. More so than “The Village,” even. Because unlike other people, I’m still firm in my belief that “The Happening” is one of the most underrated and misunderstood films of the past decade.
And sadly, it’s one of the films misunderstood alongside “The Village” which continues enduring no end of bashing for the fact that it was marketed as a horror film and ended up being a commentary on the extreme nature of grief, the nature of violence in humanity, and on our modern government. Just like the US government, the village creates a menace to keep their people paralyzed and obedient. But I digress. Among the top films from Shyamalan to be ravaged by literally everyone is “The Happening” mainly for its premise and its ability to be summed up as a film where people are chased by wind.
I still am convinced “The Happening” is much more than just people being chased by wind and that most of the viewing audience chose not to understand what M. Night was going for. Yes, I said chose. If you stand back and take a second look you’ll notice that M. Night not only pinpoints the environmental hysteria and apocalyptic fervor we’ve seen in popular culture for the past twenty years, but he also offers up a movie very much in the vein of “The Birds.” Rather than nature’s animals becoming the predator, nature itself becomes the predator. No, it’s not characters being chased by wind, it’s actually characters outrunning nature itself.
Like the elements around them, nature has become a conscious being, a force to be reckoned with that has finally decided “enough is enough, I’m running the show now.” After decades and decades of ruining the Earth and its resources, “The Happening” is a look in to a world where nature has decided to take the wheel and determine for us when it’s time to dwindle the numbers of mankind and keep the Earth’s natural equilibrium. Like a computer, Earth has to clean house, and through this we view the madness of Earth’s monstrous ability to render the plants weapons of mass destruction that turns the humans in to their own worst enemy.
Shyamalan claimed that plants do have the power to render some predators unstable, so imagine what would happen if plants all decided to use their defenses upon us. Another point against the film are the performances, and frankly I think movie lovers are much too rough, particularly on Mark Wahlberg. Yes, the man is not Spencer Tracy, but surely, his portrayal of teacher Elliot Moore is powerful in that he is a man who has figured out life and his ability to teach and guide, and is suddenly thrust in to a situation where extinction and the apocalypse has greeted him and he can do nothing but try to comprise some form of logic out of an illogical situation.
Hence why we’re given the famous “What? No!” sequence constantly lampooned around the web. Beyond that, the film is surreal and demented because this situation is beyond our realm of understanding, and Shyamalan exercises that through moments of pure hell where teenagers are shot, men submit themselves to being eaten by lions, and a group of survivors begin picking one another off in the middle of a field. The argument is made in the finale that when Wahlberg and his ex-wife are reunited with their young charge that it’s much too convenient, but like explained in the film, nature goes through cycles.
And if you were actually paying attention, one cycle ended only for another to begin in the finale where another country was taken hostage by nature’s conscious wrath. People love to give M. Night a tough time for reasons I’m not yet aware of and people chose to mock a film that was painfully misunderstood and utterly brilliant in its portrayal of the apocalypse thanks to our own sense of paranoia for the end of the world. Give “The Happening” another shot, and forget all of the eye rolls most collective movie fans give when odds are they’ve yet to see what M. Night served up for us. It’s M. Night with a punch, and one I indulge in every chance I get.