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The Happening DVD Review

The Happening movie poster The Happening

Theatrical Release: June 13, 2008 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Elliot Moore), Zooey Deschanel (Alma Moore), John Leguizamo (Julian), Ashlyn Sanchez (Jess), Betty Buckley (Mrs. Jones), Spencer Breslin (Josh), Robert Bailey Jr. (Jared), Frank Collison (Nursery Owner), Jeremy Strong (Private Auster), Alan Ruck (Principal), Victoria Clark (Nursery Owner's Wife), M. Night Shyamalan (voice of Joey)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

M. Night Shyamalan has seemingly experienced every sort of reception a filmmaker can receive. His first two features, 1993's Praying with Anger and 1998's Wide Awake came and went with little fanfare. Then he was brought as far out of obscurity as possible via 1999's surprise hit The Sixth Sense. The two films that followed, Unbreakable in 2000 and Signs in 2002 didn't quite garner the fervor of The Sixth Sense,
but they were welcomed positively nonetheless. Things took a turn in 2004 when The Village was met with mixed reception, and Shyamalan was outright reviled by the time 2006's Lady in the Water hit theaters. His 2008 film, The Happening, did nothing to overturn the distaste critics and audiences held about his last few works.

The Happening tells of a mysterious illness spreading in the air throughout the northeastern United States. All those inflicted commit suicide without any rhyme or reason. When the toxin is due to hit his hometown, biology professor Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) tries to evacuate with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), best friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian's daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). This is easier said than done as there are too many residents trying to leave at once. All modes of transportation become affected by the chaotic crowds. Elliot and his companions try to discern what's causing the unknown terror while racing for their lives along the way.

This is a baffling film in terms of presentation. Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan claims that he set out to essentially make a higher-budget B-movie. Unfortunately, it's difficult to tell when and where he's being sincere and when he's being ironic. The tone is quirky, but it's not a polished, endearing sort of quirk found in comedies or oddball dramas. It's more awkward and stilted, and the actors alternate from being overwrought to being monotone within seconds.

In one of the hundreds of unanswered questions this film has to offer, Julian (John Leguizamo) doesn't take kindly to Alma's presence during the evacuation. Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) and Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) show as much bewilderment as the script allows. Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) scour a map to determine the nearest city that has yet to be infected.

Mark Wahlberg feels woefully miscast as the nerdy, passive Elliot. Zooey Deschanel takes her character's quirky side too far, and it isn't until about halfway in that one realizes Alma doesn't have any sort of explained disability. Only John Leguizamo and Betty Buckley manage to find a solid middle ground, but Leguizamo's Julian is severely underused. It's hard to blame the actors, though, when it's clear they're being directed to act this way, especially from a script containing so much bizarre dialogue.

What's also frustrating is the story itself. It's a promising premise, and yet it doesn't come close to its potential. Some films like Shyamalan-admired The Birds don't even bother to provide a backstory for the supernatural occurrences. This can be effective considering convenient exposition doesn't often come around in real life. The problem with The Happening, though, is that it attempts to produce a vague sort of reason for the suicides. Even this wouldn't be an issue, except that the story doesn't really try to throw in other possible explanations.
It tells us early on why such a happening could be spreading, but when it doesn't delve into the details, the audience is left unsatisfied. The sense of discovery found in other Shyamalan films is sorely lacking. Either the vague possibility should've been left for the end (as one of the director's lampoonable twists), or it needed to be elaborated up on as the story progressed. As such, the proceedings just feel hollow.

Despite what the above comments indicate, The Happening is not a terrible film. There are some good scenes and ideas scattered throughout, and the picture is nicely shot and scored. The strange, offbeat tone thankfully dies down by the last third or so, also. By that time, it becomes too little too late. The characters are too aloof, the story is too half-hearted, and the acting and dialogue vary wildly in strangeness. Shyamalan is capable of better and has proven that. One could only hope this is simply an experimental period for him and that more palatable and engaging stories are on the way.

Buy The Happening on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish;
Feature and Extras Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $29.99)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


The Happening comes to DVD and Blu-ray anamorphically enhanced in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. In Fox's typically distrustful fashion, only a single-layered DVD-R screener copy was used for the purpose of this review. Therefore, the quality of neither the picture nor the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack can be properly assessed.

Elliot refuses to surrender his fictitious cereal during an argument with Alma in this deleted opening. Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan explains why he got rid of a violent shot in "The Hard Cut." Betty Buckley discusses the psyche of her character Mrs. Jones in "I Hear You Whispering."


The disc contains a decent collection of supplements, starting with four deleted scenes (15:44 with introductions). Only one of these (an alternate opening) is an actual cut scene. The rest extend existing scenes, adding some more gore.

None of them would've enhanced the film very much as they simply relay existing information. Director M. Night Shyamalan introduces each one and explains the reasoning for the edits.

Next is a featurette entitled "The Hard Cut" (9:02). This goes into detail concerning a graphic visual effect that ended up on the cutting room floor. Behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot is shown, and comments from Shyamalan are interspersed throughout. It's an interesting look at the process, made all the more fascinating by the fact that the finished product is not in the final film.

"I Hear You Whispering" (4:18) focuses on the character of Mrs. Jones. Actress Betty Buckley naturally dominates the piece, giving her perspective on the character. Other cast and crew members weigh in, as well. It's too brief to really dig deeply into a character that obviously has many layers, but the set footage mingled with Buckley's comments make it solid.

"The Happening - Visions of the Happening" (11:54) acts as a general making-of featurette. Interviews with several key members of the cast and crew reveal their respective approaches and opinions on the material. While the behind-the-scenes shots help add value, the remarks and lack of focus cause this to be the weakest of the featurettes.

"A Day for Night" involves Shyamalan conferring with two crew members on how to shoot a particular sequence. A remote-controlled stunt jeep takes one for the team in "Elements of a Scene." A fuzzy, jittery shot of the park visitors frozen in the midst of their intoxication is the focus of the DVD’s main menu.

"A Day for Night" (6:45) sounds like it'd be about color timing daylight footage to emulate night, but this isn't the case. Instead, it's B-roll footage of a day of work for Shyamalan. Unlike the other features, this piece contains no sit-down interviews and that actually strengthens it. The only downside is the brevity, but what's here is some of the best material on the disc.

"Elements of a Scene" (10:11)
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breaks down a complicated scene in which a car crashes into a tree, and an actor emerges from it unscathed in one continuous shot. Each stage from pre-visualization to final visual effects is explained and showcased. This is an informative and satisfying glimpse at how much effort goes into such a seamless shot.

The supplements conclude with a gag reel (2:52). This one doesn't consist of any on-set flubs, however. Rather, it shows some on-set tomfoolery from both the shoot and even from the DVD interviews. It's isn't terribly amusing.

The disc begins with trailers for The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead, and Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia. The Trailers section holds more ads for Street Kings and Mirrors. Neither the theatrical trailer for The Happening nor the TV spots advertising "M. Night Shyamalan's first R-rated film" are included.

The 16x9-enhanced main menu features a group of pedestrians in the park standing stoically as only hair and clothing move in the breeze. Score accompanies this, though the static, publicity photo-driven submenus are silent.

Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and their companions Josh (Spencer Breslin) and Jared (Robert Bailey Jr.) observe the symptoms of other evacuees. Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) neither sees, hears, nor speaks evil, though it’s not clear if she uses those senses for anything else, either.


While it's unfair to expect The Happening to deliver a similar experience to the better M. Night Shyamalan works, it can be said that the film falters in its own right. An off-putting presentation, a lack of sympathetic characters, and a bland plot join forces to create something that fails to enthrall. Despite that, the movie is treated to a nice assortment of bonus features, even if they do little to shed light on the opaque narrative. Die-hard Shyamalan fans may want to rent this, but anyone else curious is encouraged to scout elsewhere for supernatural mystery.

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Related Reviews:
M. Night Shyamalan: The Village • The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan
28 Weeks Later • Dark Water • Escape to Witch Mountain • Shutter • Poltergeist
New to DVD: Iron Man (Ultimate 2-Disc Edition) • Sleeping Beauty (Platinum Edition) • Holiday Treats

The Cast of The Happening:
Mark Wahlberg: Shooter • Invincible | Zooey Deschanel: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy • Bridge to Terabithia • Once Upon a Mattress
Spencer Breslin: The Shaggy Dog (2006) • The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause | Alan Ruck: Kickin' It Old Skool

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Reviewed October 3, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2008 Twentieth Century Fox, UTV Motion Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment,
Blinding Edge Pictures, and Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.