The Happening ** 1/2 (out of ****)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Betty Buckley, Spencer Breslin
Rating: R (violent and disturbing images)
Running Time: 91 min
Release Date: 6/12/08

M. Night Shyamalan is back with another in his series of movies with brooding themes. His latest production, The Happening, gets off to a faster start than his previous efforts. It starts in Central Park when a young woman becomes confused of and then stabs herself with a hair pin. Workers start jumping off of buildings. A police officer shoots himself. His example is quickly followed by an onlooker who uses the dead cop’s gun. The media soon is reporting this event as a terrorist attack with an exotic chemical weapon that is inducing this behavior.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia Eliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is asking science class what could explain the mysterious disappearance of the thirty percent of the bee population. The class seems less than enthusiastic about the topic. One student who seems for preoccupied with girls than bees suggests that the disappearance is an act of nature and that we never will have an explanation for it. Now that’s a real scientific attitude…Not! Fortunately, this class is interrupted when Eliot is called to a teachers meeting and informed of a terrorist attack that occurred in New York. Classes are dismissed for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile back at the Moore residence Eliot’s wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), is receiving call from someone on her cell phone. When Eliot returns from school they decided to leave Philidelpia and travel to the country where it will be safer. They are joined by Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) on a journey by train. As the plot develops, we see the snippets on the media coverage of the disaster which is soon covering the whole northeastern United States. Our group is hoping to take the train outside of the effected area. But, their plans soon are derailed when the train comes to a halt in a small town.

It seems that the plague or whatever it is has jumped ahead of them. Julian finds a ride with some strangers who are heading to Princeton, New Jersey in hopes finding his wife. Before leaving he entrusts Jess with Eliot and Alma. The prevailing opinion gradually shifts from the belief that the country is under terrorist attack to the plague being a government mishap to a freak natural occurrence. The Moore’s and Jess meet a couple who run a nursery with a plan to drive out into the country away from population in order to escape in the belief that the plague only attack large groups of people.

The Happening as is typical for a Shyamalan film is not particularly shocking in its presentation. It’s also relatively slow placed. One might even call it a thoughtful horror movie. Shyamalan seems to have some sympathy for the motives of the ultimate protagonist. The film is similar to Hitchcock’s The Birds to a degree but Hitchcock’s work predated the “hard green” agenda which as the Agent in The Matrix put it, “humans are a virus!” It is argued that we are now multiplying at an unsustainable rate. The Happening warns that nature may develop a countermeasure.

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