A Black Man’s Review Of
“The Happening”


M. Night. Pre. Sold.

Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, and writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan

A biological attack originating from New York’s Central Park starts to spread around the Eastern Seaboard to Philadelphia, where a science teacher (Wahlberg), his aloof, distant wife (Deschanel), and friends escape from the city into the Pennsylvania countryside, only to find the mysterious neurotoxin chasing them.

The Deal:
This is not going to be a popular review, and I am okay with that. Ever since my fifth grade report on the deterioration of the ozone layer due to manmade pollution, I have had an eye for the environment. I may not be a full-blown granola-head but I believe in the fragility of our ecosystem and the adverse role humans can play in it. Apparently, so does M. Night, as his latest “don’t give away the plot” spine-tingler is a very science-based, disturbingly effective eco-thriller.

Bodies falling from the sky. Mass suicide. The disappearance of the honeybee. Is it terrorism? Mother Nature? A government experiment gone horribly awry? Determined to be the Alfred Hitchcock of our time whether we want him to be or not, M. Night delivers his widely-touted “first R-rated” movie as an examination of survival, our nature of total self-interest, and, oddly enough, actual science. It is through the latter’s prism that Night filters surprising moments of levity (the first eco-comi-thriller?) with fleet-footed suspense; in the era of ever-expanding runtimes (yes, I mean you, “Sex and the City”), “The Happening” makes it happen in a svelte 91 minutes.

With James Newton Howard’s (The Sixth Sense) moodily ominous, cello-based score and a crackerjack sound effects staff acting as Best Supporting Actors, Night sends chills through the movie’s lack of information, or, rather, the piecemeal doling out of it. As Wahlberg’s science teacher employs his dorky-hip scientist wits whenever possible, Night’s screenplay lays out like sort of serious mystery science theater, a terrorizing puzzler.

Adding to the nerdy verisimilitude is a quite game Mark Wahlberg - 180 degrees from his profane cop in “The Departed” or macho killing machine Bob Lee Swagger in “Shooter” - as the cool, young science teacher Elliot Moore. Wahlberg’s naturally higher register voice is put to good use when making what seem to be innocent observations of and declarations to the wonders of science in the first act that we all know will pay off by the third. His Elliot is the type who would rather think first, shoot never, in stark contrast to his usual action hero roles, despite the quiet thoughtfulness he brings to each one. The heroic resilience, however, is still present and accessible - a studio summer flick with a believable hero!

As his hesitantly better half Alma Moore, REEL DEAL Crush Zooey Deschanel (all flying saucer-sized blue orbs of wonder and worry) provides an atypically whiny, fragile performance. Alma is nervous, frightened by life, a bit of a cheat, and potentially unreliable. Played so against type, it might be the tack-witted Deschanel’s best work to date. It doesn’t take a USC film student to see that this crisis will give the Moores a chance to work on their troubled marriage. Fine support is added by Betty Buckley as a bitter, bipolar recluse and Frank Collison as a crazy plant nursery owner with pertinent horticultural insights.

Have “we become a threat to the planet?” Do we need another Katrina to sway even the staunchest of the intelligent designers that our impact on climate change is real and (sorry) HAPPENING as we live and breathe? I don’t drive a Prius, nor belong to Greenpeace, and I eat meat. A lot. Still, this movie speaks to my inner tree-hugger while scaring the bejesus out of me (okay, so it doesn’t take much).

You may not give a double-damn about the environment, and that’s okay. M. Night’s brings plenty of edutainment to go around.

“There appears to be an event happening.” Uh huh. And don’t you dare miss it.

@@@@ REELS
An urban legend/instant classic.

UTC’s resident film critic Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for The 213 Magazine, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com where his new novel I DO? is available NOW.

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