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Film / The Happening

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"Alright, there appears to be an event happening. Central Park was just hit by what seems to be a terrorist attack. They're not clear on the scale yet. It's some kind of airborne chemical toxin that's been released in and around the park. They said to watch for warning signs. The first stage is confused speech. The second stage is physical disorientation, loss of direction. The third stage... is fatal."

The Happening is a 2008 science-fiction horror 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 nobody can explain the mass suicides. Amid the chaos, school teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) tries to escape Philadelphia with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), his colleague and friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julian’s daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez).

At first, 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. The film's marketing also emphasized it being Shyamalan's first R-rated film.

Compare Alive: The Final Evolution and Bird Box.

This film provides examples of:

  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: For some reason, the film's R rating was a huge marketing point, with the "R" on the advertising’s rating blocks being highlighted in bright red (not that it overindulges in many of the things on which the MPAA tends to crack down).
  • Babies Ever After: Alma is revealed to be pregnant at the end.
  • 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 half-minute.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Really, really obvious one: the two rooms where you can hear whatever the person in the other room is saying.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mrs. Jones is (supposed to be) a non-comedic example. She has obviously lived in isolation for many years, and displays misanthropic behavior and truly terrible social skills (she even accuses Elliot of planning to murder her in her sleep for no reason at all). She even flips out at Elliot trying to examine the doll on her bed (which presumably represents her younger self, given she alleges it's her face, and she was apparently hiding nearby to see if Elliot approached it) and orders him to leave at once. Clearly she has some serious mental problems.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Whenever the characters need any sort of exposition they can find a broadcast, wherever they are, be it the abandoned truck, 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 news on TV. This seems to be a Shyamalan thing though.
  • Covers Always Lie: One of the posters depicts Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, and Ashlyn Sanchez sitting in the middle of an eerily deserted city street with hundreds of papers blowing in the wind around them. In actuality, they leave Philly about fifteen minutes in and travel through the countryside for the remainder of the film until the very end.
  • Creator Cameo: M. Night Shyamalan provides the voice of Joey, with whom Alma had dessert once without telling Elliot, and acts as if she had an affair with him. And the viewer never sees him.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Or, in this case, a Crazy Doll Lady.
  • Cute Mute: Jess says very little until the end.
  • Disposable Pilot: The Jeep driver.
  • Dull Surprise: The reaction to the mass suicides is … less expressive than one might expect.
  • Emotionless Girl: Alma, more or less, spends most of the movie in Dull Surprise mode, and one of whose first lines is "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 the newscaster say it together).
  • The End... Or Is It?: The end of the film, where it appears that the whole affair will repeat in France.
  • Evolutionary Levels: The plants suddenly evolve the ability to emit the relevant 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 that runs a little too long.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: In the nastiest fashion possible.
  • 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 the first time the MPAA had given a Shyamalan film an R rating, 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 "thing" for "penis".
  • Green Aesop
  • Happily Adopted: With the death of her parents, Jess is adopted by Elliot and Alma.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Hence, apparently, the plants' sudden 'evolution' and revolt against humanity. Additionally, in one scene, a guy shoots two obnoxious teenagers who have joined Elliot because he doesn't want them coming into his boarded-up house.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: The minute Julian gives his eight-year-old daughter Jess to Alma and Elliot, you know Julian's doomed.
  • Kent Brockman News: The reports in certain situations. For example:
  • Made of Plasticine: The zookeeper whose lions (very easily) tear him limb from limb.
  • Murder by Suicide: People are committing suicide in vast numbers under mysterious circumstances. The audience never gets to know the actual cause of the mass suicides, but speculation about it is sprinkled throughout the film (radiation fallout, a plague, etc.) and some have even spread their own Wild Mass Guessing entries.
  • 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 his companions, who were looking in that direction already, and then they notice it.
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: One of the late stages of the toxin involves speaking nonsense.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: This movie is practically the poster child for why it's better to leave some things unexplained. Before The Reveal, when people are killing themselves and no one knows why, the movie is (mostly) a genuinely effective suspense thriller. After the reveal, the whole thing becomes invokeda complete joke.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • Two women are seen holed up in an apartment in the city somewhere, 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.
    • A man boards up his rural house to protect himself and his family from the toxin. Elliot tries to reason with them, but Josh and Jared's behavior undermines his attempt and they're shot dead for their trouble.
  • Orphaned Punchline:
    Construction worker: …and the little guy says, "You have a girlfriend named Wendy, too? Well, I saw your thing and it says 'WY'." And the big guy says, "No, man. Mine says 'Welcome to Jamaica, have a nice day.'"note 
  • Poor Communication Kills: Elliot, Alma, and Jess get all the way through dinner with Mrs. Jones before trying to mention the wave of mass suicides, but Mrs. Jones makes it clear she doesn't want to hear about it anyway.
  • The Power of Love: The plants just happen to stop emitting the neurotoxin minutes before Elliot and Alma decide to go outside and embrace. In the original script, the subtext became text and it was literally The Power of Love that saved them.
  • 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 lined up perfectly horizontally and readable.
  • Red Shirt: Quite a few characters have shirts redder than roses, redder than poinsettias.
  • The Reveal: Everyone is killing themselves because... Plants made them do it.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The Disappearing Bees, Terrorist Attacks, Global Warming, etc. The film is just a grab bag of topical terrors.
  • Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: This was a major theme of the movie according to Shyamalan, who claims the unexplained event is an allegory for an act of god that science cannot explain. In his first scene, Elliot asks his students to explain the mass disappearance of bees across the country; he dismisses plausible explanations but accepts the answer "It's just a phenomenon of nature and we’ll never understand it." He follows that up by claiming that any explanation scientists publish in books someday will be "just a theory" they can't actually prove, and a good scientist admits and respects that there are things science can't explain.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Mrs. Jones has this, and some obvious mental issues, going for her. She acts very hostilely to the protagonists for no good reason at all.
  • Shout-Out: Jess has an Avatar: The Last Airbender backpack in the end … Foreshadowing of things to come.
  • 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 else kill themselves.
  • 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, Pennsylvania, is near Uniontown, Pennsylvania, about forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh, putting it very far from the eastern part of the state that the guy in the diner points out on the TV screen, and well past their train’s stated destination of Harrisburg. The town itself has no rail service, either.
  • This Is for Emphasis, Bitch!: Spencer Breslin’s character’s line, "Open this door, bitch!"
  • Tin-Can Telephone: Elliot and Alma use the talking tube variant of this trope to talk to each other when they were separated from each other during a chemical attack.
  • Title Drop: The word "happening" is uttered in about every other scene. But, as Film Brain points out in his review, it soon becomes repetitive and annoying.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: When the survivors realize that the mysterious substance causing people to kill themselves is traveling with the wind and targeting people in big groups, eight minor characters (a nuclear family, an Asian couple, and two women traveling alone) split into two groups that run in the opposite direction from the main cast and are never seen again.
  • When Trees Attack: The Movie.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Averted. Julian's math riddle he gives to a young girl to calm her down actually would amount to over $10 million.note