J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

The Happening

Posted by J on November 28, 2008

200px-thehappening1_largeThe Happening is a disaster movie that takes it premise far too seriously, and yet doesn’t take it seriously enough.  Here is what we mean by by the latter. In the movie, the entire northeastern seaboard is wiped out.  Citizens of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are all dead.  But somehow this doesn’t create a national economic catastrophe; the banking system is still up and running, and the TV networks still air talking-head shows.

This movie also believes that it has a message.  It is such a grandiose message that the movie assumes the ultimate title: The Happening.  Couldn’t every movie be titled “The Happening”?  It is great marketing idea nonetheless.  Next time we send the relatives home videos of the kids’ banging on the piano, we’ll just title them “The Happening.”  It’ll be so vague and mysterious, everyone will want to watch.

What happens in The Happening is that people start to die in Central Park, New York City.  The wind rustles in the trees — here is the key message of the movie: if you feel the wind rustling, run! — and once people are trapped by this wind there is no escape.  They walk backwards, then kill themselves.

In other parts of the city, people worry.  Is this a terrorist attack?  If it is, the entire city doesn’t care.  It remains calm and orderly, especially the train station, from which our heroes escape.  One of them is Mark Wahlberg, a high school science teacher who has the most well-behaved high school classroom we’ve ever seen.  Wahlberg recites the scientific method to us, as if it will apply to anything remotely to do with this movie.

Wahlberg and wife leave New York City to go to Philadelphia, but, somewhere along the way, they get stuck in rural eastern Pennsylvania.  They hear that people are dying everywhere.  At one point, there are dead people in all four directions.  So they abandon their vehicles and walk across the country, in the direction of dead people.

At this point, Wahlberg decides to use the scientific method to figure out what’s happening with The Happening.  Actually, Wahlberg makes a guess from two shaky pieces of evidence. Wahlberg decides that the mass suicides aren’t the product of a terrorist attack, but instead of plants.  It is plants that cause the wind to rustle, and plants that cause people to walk backwards and commit suicide.

That’s right.  The Happening is plants that attack. The plants — which species, we do not know — are releasing new spores, or something, that are getting up people’s noses and causing the brain to reverse the “survival instinct.”  (This is no great secret.  It is a possibility offered early in the movie.)  To avoid the plant spores, you must avoid the wind, which is nearly impossible, but nevermind.

At this point, the wind rustles while Wahlberg and his large group are in an open field.  As they run, one group gets caught in the wind.  Amazingly, the other group does not.  Apparently the wind can choose which group to kill in an open field.

The last third of this movie involves Wahlberg and his wife at a rural old lady’s house.  You can guess how a rural old lady acts in a quasi-horror film. Here, the old lady channels Norman Bates from Psycho.  This has little to do with the rest of the movie, except that Wahlberg needs a place of refuge.

The movie is extraordinarily weak on characterization.  It is far more interested in showing graphic suicides, none of which are artistically necessary.  You will see a woman stab herself in the neck, people fall off building, and a man run a lawnmower over himself.  All of these moments of violence are purely voyeuristic.

Intertwined with this voyeurism is the big message: be environmentally conscious.  If we aren’t, plants will rapidly evolve and attack all of us, using their good pal, the wind.  You know how it is: everything needs to be “green” these days.  Finally, in The Happening, a bad movie with unnecessary violence goes green.  We expect the next hit movie about serial killers to go green.  Followed by the next hit raunchy comedy.  It’s the times.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 2


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