By Adam Frazier
A whirl of fluffy white clouds against a bright blue sky – sounds idyllic doesnâ€™t it? This is how audiences are introduced to â€œThe Happening,â€ writer/director M. Night Shayamalanâ€™s latest thriller.
As the credits do their thing, those fluffy white clouds slowly stretch into smudgy gray streaks, and that blue sky you might often daydream about, has bruised to a deep violet â€“ like a three-day-old black eye.
â€œA storm is approaching.â€ â€œA change is in the air.â€ Use whatever phrasing you please, but this opening sequence serves as a point to illustrate that something dark and ominous is happening to the world around us.
One day in Central Park, people become disoriented – their speech garbled. They begin walking backward. They start killing themselves. This erratic, unexplainable behavior spreads through Manhattan, and then the entire Northeast.
Construction workers take nosedives from rooftops. Policemen shoot themselves without a secondâ€™s hesitation. These horrific deaths are blamed on a supposed “terrorist attack,” but in reality no one has the faintest idea of what it is, and New York City is evacuated.
Cut to Philadelphia, where High school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is discussing a scientific article with his class. According to this New York Times article, honeybees are disappearing all over the country. Tens of millions of them, just vanishing, no bodies â€“ no sign of them â€“ theyâ€™re just mysteriously gone.
Elliot engages his students, poking and prodding for possible theories as to why this might be happening. Disease? Could be a virus or infection, Elliot speculates. Pollution? Another likely hypothesis â€“ maybe weâ€™re pumping so many toxins into the air that the bees are just keeling over?
One of Elliotâ€™s students, Dillon, raises his hand. In a matter of fact way of speaking, Dillon states, â€œGlobal Warming.â€ And sure, Elliot acknowledges an increase in the Earthâ€™s temperature by a degree or two could easily have killed them â€“ but where are the bodies?
The final assumption of Elliot and his class is that, itâ€™s an act of nature and weâ€™ll never fully understand it. This idea, of things beyond our understanding, is the lynchpin for the remainder of â€œThe Happening.â€
As these strange events begin to spread throughout the Northeast, paranoia and fear follow close behind, eventually leading us back to Elliot Moore and his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel). Theyâ€™ve decided to leave Philadelphia in the midst of these events to stay at a quiet country home with friend, Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian’s daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez).
While on a train to Harrisburg, Pa., we learn from passengersâ€™ cell phones that this chemical attack, or whatever it might be, has hit Philadelphia. Communication is lost with, well, everyone, and the train is forced to shut down. Julian, frantic to find his wife who is in New Jersey, entrusts his daughter to Elliot and Alma, and goes in search of her.
So now we have Elliot, Alma and Jess running through the backcountry fields of Pennsylvania, doing whatever they must to escape the attack as it spreads. The thing I find perhaps the most admirable about â€œThe Happeningâ€ is the amount of thought put into it. Itâ€™s almost, in a creepy kind of way, endearing.
Shyamalanâ€™s pace allows one to examine the events playing out on screen. I found myself sitting in the theater wondering how I might react to such a shocking wakeup call. Shyamalan puts these relatable, very real, characters into dreadful atmospheres â€“ dark and ominous situations that are low on action but high on attentive suspense.
In many ways, â€œThe Happeningâ€ serves as one of those â€˜50s science fiction B-movies â€“ fantastical disasters as allegories to the real dangers of the world. Shyamalan pushes the point across that we must have a respectful awe for nature, and the mysteries for which cannot be explained.
I know Iâ€™m in the minority for praising this film, as the majority of critics have ripped â€œThe Happeningâ€ to shreds for atrocious acting, laughable dialogue and a poorly written script. I, however, donâ€™t see it that way at all. Donâ€™t get me wrong, â€œThe Happeningâ€ is not a perfect film. It has its fair share of flaws and canâ€™t be held in the same regard as â€œThe Sixth Senseâ€ or â€œSigns,â€ but for me it still does the trick.
This film has the strange ability, as all of Shyamalanâ€™s films do, to cast a wondrous spell that arrests and intrigues me.
Blu-Ray Details and Extras
Though the Blu-Ray is, obviously, a step-up from the normal SD release this one still doesn’t pack as much punch as it should have. There’s enough detail but it’s very light on clarity. Better is the DTS HD master audio track which’ll see the sounds whistle – um, er, cos, well, most of the sound is wind – beautifully through the speakers.
Supplementary materials include a gag reel (see Spencer Breslin shot in the face over-and-over! Yeah, not too funny),numerous documentaries, and some deleted scenes – cut for good reason. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray release are some picture-in-picture interviews and a trivia track.