Why this panned horror movie gets better with age
TEN years ago M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening breezed into theatres and failed to take the breath away of critics and audiences alike.
Boasting a dismal 18 per cent Rotten Tomatoes critic score, the Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel-starrer depicts a world where nature turns on human beings and drives them to commit suicide.
It came as something of a let-down to fans of previous Shyamalan hits like Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, and Signs.
With the notable exception of legendary critic Roger Ebert, The Happening was panned, written off as “an awful let-down”, “a woeful clunker”, and “absurdly preachy and illogical”. Ten years out, however, we couldn’t help but wonder if The Happening was judged fairly. Were we distracted by the casting of Marky Mark as a high school teacher? The finger-wagging about climate change?
We revisited the film to investigate whether or not it warranted such contempt.
As an elevator pitch, The Happening admittedly sounds a little silly. The environment takes its revenge on us after years of our abusing it? Plants killing people? Come on.
The execution, however, is better than you might remember. Rather than employing jump scares and thrilling sequences, The Happening is content to sit still with its story.
We may have expected something different from this helmer of horror, but despite the objections of many, The Happening is demonstrative of just how well Shyamalan still understands fear.
It’s unexpected and paranoid, aided by its smart sound design and strange pacing. Putting aside the performances and paying closer attention to the atmosphere he creates offers an entirely different viewing experience.
It sounds silly – and we’re not trying to make excuses for the film – but there are a lot more redemptive qualities here when you’re not just cringing through Wahlberg’s stunted dialogue delivery.
The Happening is by no means M. Night Shyamalan’s best film; The Sixth Sense is discussed more than any of the others for a reason, Signs is still chilling, and The Village finds beauty and terror in its melancholy.
The recent Split marks a fabulous return to form for the director, and it’s likely he’ll continue this habit with Glass.
But The Happening deserves credit for just how daring it is, even in all its (occasionally inadvertent) absurdity and goofiness.
There’s a thoughtfulness to it, more suspense than you probably remember, and an abandoning of trying to live up to expectations.
Perhaps The Happening was so derided because of the fact that not all that much happens, that we have so much time to sit with our own thoughts about it.
Perhaps The Happening isn’t all that fantastic of a movie, and parables often cause us to let out an exasperated sigh.
But the way it’s been dragged feels disproportionate. If the last 10 years have really shown us anything, it’s that The Happening, in all its preachiness, may have been onto something.
We were just rolling our eyes too much to pay attention.
This story first appeared on Decider and has been republished here with permission
Watch the trailer for The Happening here: