The Happening Review
“It's Happening. No, Not An Alien Invasion, A Botanist Convention.”
January 29th, 2011
Remember the hype for this film? Given that it was M. Night Shyamalan's first 'R' rated film? Well, attaining that rating was a cheap shot through a couple moments where the camera typically pulls away. But that was basically the only thing which brought fans to the box office. Unless of course--like me--they didn't at all mind ANY of Night's previous films. However, I too skipped this. For those who still find it intriguing, then you've been warned.
So basically, rather than Armageddon by meteor, asteroid, ice age, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, 12/21/2012, the Return of Christ, or any score of natural disasters, it's just...plants. Non-Toxic plants which have magically acquired fatally toxic pheromones to wipe out humanity to save themselves from being further destroyed a la deforestation like the Amazon. But no, these aren't "Audrey II" type plants, they're just your average everyday kind. Yet no matter how cinematographer Tak Fujimoto shoots them, he fails at making sedentary plants scary.
The group of survivors--if you'd call them that--are school teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Whalberg), his estranged wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), his best friend and colleague Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian's daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). They flee Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania plains where they have varying encounters of frantic, yet sometimes helpful people, like a Nursery owner (Frank Collison) and his wife (Victoria Clark) who believe plants are responsible for the events. Or in other words, the "head for the hills" characters who are overly typical to the genre--albeit, their advice is a bit different than that.
To his credit, Night convinces the audience early on that the entirety of the film won't consist of people fleeing from plants. Rather the first forty minutes unfolds just like you'd expect an apocalyptic film to unfold when thrown immediately into the events. Hence, the real danger and suspense are the group's attempts to seek shelter in the plains. The best of such attempts being their stay with the paranoid shut in Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley), who's completely unaware of the disaster. Actually she's an extremely intimidating elderly woman who can pull a gun on you as quickly as give you a heart attack from catching you off guard. This was by far the most suspenseful part of the film, and considering the events up to that point, then that's unfortunately saying a lot.
Overall, the cinematography of the landscape was beautiful, but the implications of what it meant ruined it. The lack of lasting danger did as well. For while the plants are constantly on the prowl, they're obviously not scary. And considering that the survivors flee the city for the plant infested wilderness, then the movie logic applied to explain their ability to survive even lacks sorely for those who still think Night had a good concept going. For while it sounds interesting for a botany class, it truly doesn't play as a suspenseful thriller as Night intended it to be.