Film: The Happening

"Plastic. I'm talking to a plastic plant. I'm still doing it."

A 2008 film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Something big is going down: people all over the East Coast of the United States start to kill themselves for no reason, and there's no explanation as to the mass suicides. High school teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) tries to escape Philadelphia with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), fellow teacher Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian's daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez).

The movie takes a Hitchcockian approach to the horror — the suicides merely happen without explanation — until somebody does explain it: plants, in response to human overpopulation, are emitting a neurotoxin that makes a person's survival instinct kick into reverse.

Compare Alive: The Final Evolution.

This film provides examples of:

  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: For some reason, the film's R rating was a huge marketing point.
  • Behind the Black: Funny how the characters don't notice the bodies hanging from the trees until the camera reveals them, even though they had been driving straight towards them for a good 30 seconds.
  • Babies Ever After: Alma is revealed to be pregnant at the end.
  • Creator Cameo: M. Night Shyamalan provides the voice of Joey, with whom Alma had dessert once and acts as if she had an affair with him. And the viewer never sees the man himself.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Or, in this case, a Crazy Doll Lady.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Really, really obvious one — the two rooms where you can hear whatever the person in the other room is saying.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Mrs. Jones is (supposed to be) a non-comedic example. She has clearly lived in isolation for many years, and displays misanthropic behavior and truly terrible social skills (she even accuses Elliot of planning to murder her with no basis at all). She even flips out at Elliot trying to examine the doll on her bed (which presumably represents her younger self, given she screams its her face, and she was apparently hiding nearby to see if Elliot got near it) and orders him to leave at once. It's clear she has some serious mental problems.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Whenever the characters need any sort of exposition they can find a broadcast, regardless of wherever they are, whether it be the abandoned truck, or the radio in the middle of the field (that no one bothered to take with them), or the montage of other people all over the U.S. watching the TV News.
  • Cute Mute: Jess, who rarely speaks until the very end.
  • Disposable Pilot: The Jeep driver.
  • Dull Surprise: The reaction to the mass suicides is, shall we say, less expressive than one might expect.
  • Emotionless Girl: Alma, more or less, spends most of the movie in Dull Surprise mode, and states at the beginning "I don't like to show my emotions." Maybe the most egregious example among many in this movie is her line about the foliage "It makes you kill yourself" ... right after she and Elliot heard it together!
  • The End... Or Is It?: The end of the film, where it appears that the whole thing starts over again in France.
  • Evolutionary Levels: The plants suddenly evolve the ability to emit neurotoxin. All species of plants. Simultaneously.
  • Expospeak: The principal explains the symptoms at the beginning to the other teachers. Later, the nursery owner explains plants' ability to release chemicals. Mrs. Jones explains the speaker in the springhouse.
  • Fake Food: In a gag which runs on a little long.
  • Gaia's Vengeance
  • Gorn: Apparently someone in Fox's marketing department learned that people were just laughing at the answer to the "mystery", so commercials for the DVD release focused solely on the deaths and its status as Shyamalan's first R-rated film, ignoring the mystery aspect.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The private's use of "Cheese and crackers!" as an exclamation, and the construction worker's use of the word "thing" for "penis".
  • Green Aesop
  • Humans Are Bastards: This is thought to be the reason for the plants' sudden "evolution" and revolt against humanity. Additionally, in one scene, a guy shoots two obnoxious teenagers because he doesn't want them coming into his house.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted when the two teenage boys get shot.
  • Made of Plasticine: The man being (very easily) torn apart by lions.
  • The Meadow Run: Fine, it's more like the Meadow Walk, but even so...
  • Non Sequitur Thud: One of the late stages of the toxin involves speaking nonsense.
  • No Peripheral Vision: When Elliot walks up to the truck with the open door, only after looking through it does he notice the house in the distance. He then points it out to everyone else who was looking in that direction already, and they notice it.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here
  • Only Sane Man: Two women are seen holed up in an apartment, wearing gas masks. This is one of the smartest things you can do if you believe that a chemical/biological weapon has been used and there is minimal option for evacuating safely.
  • Orphaned Punchline:
    Construction Worker: ... and little guy says "You have a girlfriend named Wendy, too? Well, I saw your thing and it says 'WY'." And the big guy says "Noooo man. Mine says 'Welcome to Jamaica, have a nice day.'"note 
  • Poor Communication Kills: Elliot, Jess and Alma get all the way through dinner with Mrs. Jones before deigning to mention the event, but Mrs. Jones makes it clear she doesn't want to hear about it anyway.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: When the police officer and others shoot themselves. Odd, given the gory scenes in other parts.
  • Product Placement: When Elliot tells them to stop the car because of the bodies on the road, the next shot is the wheel stopping with the word "Jeep" on the hubcap perfectly lined up horizontally and readable.
  • The Power of Love: The plants just happen to stop emitting the neurotoxin minutes before Elliot and Alma decide to go outside and hug. In the original script, the subtext became text and it was literally The Power of Love.
  • Red Shirt: Quite a few characters have shirts are redder than roses, redder than poinsettias.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The Disappearing Bees, Terrorist Attacks, Global Warming, etc. The film is just a grab bag of topical terrors.
    • Even before the movie was made, the most credible theories regarding Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees hinged around naturally-occurring immunodeficiency and fungal pathogens (i.e., not human-caused).
  • Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: The mass genocide of humans by plants is described by Elliot Moore as something that just "happened", rather than an unprecedented biological phenomenon.
    • Science doesn't seem to be in great shape in this movie's universe, in the opening scenes, Elliot asks his students for theories on disappearing bees. One student suggests "It's just a phenomenon of nature and we'll never understand it"; in the real world, a science teacher would consider that a desperate cop-out from an ignorant student, but Elliot considers it a perfectly valid answer. One gets the impression M. Night doesn't really understand what science is or how it works, given that the whole point of science is explaining natural phenomena.
  • Screw Politeness Im A Senior: Mrs. Jones has this and some obvious mental issues going for her. She displays very hostile behavior towards Elliot and others for no good reason at all.
  • Shaped Like Itself
  • Sole Survivor: In the beginning, and in the end in France, only one random person isn't affected by the neurotoxins, and Forced to Watch everyone kill themselves.
  • Shout-Out: Jess has an Avatar: The Last Airbender backpack in the end. Foreshadowing of things to come.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Be more environmentalist, or plants will kill you.
  • Tagline:
    We've Sensed It.
    We've Seen The Signs.
    And Now...It's Happening.
  • Television Geography: The real Filbert, PA is near Uniontown, PA, about forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh — this puts it very far from the eastern part of the state that the guy in the restaurant points out on the TV screen, and well past their trainís stated destination of Harrisburg. The actual town has no rail service, either.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Spencer Breslin's character's line, "Open this door, bitch!"
  • Title Drop: The word "happening" is spoken in about every other scene. But as Film Brain points out in his review, it soon becomes repetitive and annoying.
  • When Trees Attack