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M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening

Published June 12, 2008 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of 20th Century Fox
The Happening PosterThe Happening
So, I'm the only one who likes The Happening. I'm fine with that, as usual. To me, it was exactly what I wanted in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. It's a high concept where you don't show it, only this time he shows it a little.

Movie Review: The Happening


We first get a sense of the event by an observer's reaction. When Shyamalan chooses to show something drastic, it's a shock. Then even when he shows the graphic results what's going on, he still frames it in a visually artistic way.

Shyamalan can shoot. Tracking a chain of deaths framed at the knees is pretty compelling. Even showing the violence is playful, because it's about when he's finally going to cut away. And he breaks some serious movie rules in very R rated ways.

His actors are all good at talking ominous. They speak very basically and make obvious yet evasive comments, but that's the language of these panic movies.

When Shyamalan takes digs at emotional issues, his understanding of human relationships seems childish at best. This is kind of interesting, because he's such a fragile artist as he revealed in his biography and his own public comments. This is his insight, so why not go with it?



The narrative is mysterious and suspenseful. If you don't like the answer, oh well. That's sort of the bargain with any story. When you get to the revelation, you either like it or you don't. It could certainly be considered silly, but no more so than global warming chasing Jake Gyllenhaal in a frozen library. I like the way he makes the innocuous scary.

Like the genre in which it is lightly set, The Happening features standard beats like an encounter with a solitary crazy and times where you just want to tell the characters not to go in there, or get out of there already. But that's a thriller.

I'm always amused by the sort of backlashes that Shyamalan is in right now. It's like people have suddenly started criticizing Tarantino for being self-indulgent. But you liked all that tangential dialogue 15 years ago. You can't change your mind now. Well, M. Night Shyamalan makes vague, subtle fantasy thrillers. If you've outgrown it, don't blame him.


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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of 20th Century Fox
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