M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, a daring ecological thriller where Nature fights back against its human trespassers/polluters, functions best as a series of fascinating ideas, scenarios, and what ifs, narrowing the global consequences of human indifference and greed toward the environment to a horrifically personal level. When New Englanders begin committing suicide for no particular reason, the government screams “biological terrorist attack”, sending hordes of people into the countryside looking for safe haven. As the “virus” spreads from population to population, a small group from Philadelphia (led by Mark Walhberg’s banal but well meaning science teacher) travel deep into the heartland while witnessing one brutal incident after another.
During its best scenes, The Happening creates a tension between survival and isolation, revealing the epic proportions of Nature’s wrath through glimpses of death framed by wind in the trees and menace in the air. These moments signify a silence that feels both natural and calculated, a last ditch warning from one species to another. Unfortunately, Shyamalan’s script injects many cliches and moments of comedy in an attempt to lighten the mood, giving critics of all shapes and sizes plenty of ammunition to destroy what is truly an enigmatic and dynamic film (and don’t worry, they have!). The Happening might not be as ambitious as The Village or as clever as The Sixth Sense, but the film is downright refreshing considering how it dares to confront the many levels of death occurring around the planet today. Shyamalan envisions a green world where the victim plays a part in their own demise and the killer constantly sustains a certain beautiful ambiguity, a vibrant and fitting clash that never looses its poignancy. Like Romero’s Diary of the Dead, The Happening asks if the human race deserves a second chance after a self-made disaster, a valid and unsettling question considering the damage we’ve done and currently do so effortlessly.