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It’s Not the End of The World ... Wait, Check That

June 30, 2008
By Tony Rutherford



Where and with whom would you want to be at the end of the world?


With retreating intimate foreshadowing and intentionally disturbing, otherwise ordinary shots, M. Night Shyamalan frightens up goose bumps as he relates an event that begins one morning in New York City’s Central Park. Readers, walkers and workers stop, begin uttering repetitive phrases and begin killing themselves by the closest method at hand.


As the circumstance spreads, the camera moves to a skyscraper construction zone, where one by one workers let go of their restraints and plunge to the ground. With the camera tilted upward showing numerous workers on their way down to death, eerie chills pervade É imagine the numbers that plunged from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001?


“The Happening” vaults to a terrorist attack on NYC as evidenced by scenes of breaking news reporters attempting to what and why the occurrence.


Wisely, Shyamalan shifts from a big fish bowl disaster to progressively smaller groups of people thrown together by unknown forces. Enter Elliott (Mark Wahlberg), a science teacher, and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), who opt for evacuating Philadelphia for the country. Elliott’s friend, though, leaves his eight-year-old daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) with them as he heads to New Jersey in a vain effort to locate his wife.


Soon, the train stops at a little incorporated village in the middle of nowhere. Having lost contact with superiors, the train engineers refuse to continue on the route, leaving abandoned passengers to descend on the quaint village. 


Combining the terse, unflappable Rod (“Twilight Zone”) Serling style and Alfred Hitchcock’s gifts of suspense, which captivates and surges, the rapidly thinning lost souls, face critical survival’s flight or fight responses. Almost classically, the trees, weeds and willows echo seclusion and fright as bands of non-affected wanderers converge from the North, South, East and West.


As the alternatives narrow, classic television fans may recall an episode of “The Outer Limits” and midnight B movie fans will recall the, “it’s the army, we’re safe” dialogue, from “Panic in Year Zero.”


Without spoiling the premise more than necessary, let’s recall how Hitchcock turned the roost of a few birds into a hellish image. Shyamalan arouses escalating trauma and panic with an ordinary dark sky/storm blowing in backgrounds. For a further morose feel he injects a wailing cello along with tortured crises of individuals on the threshold of escalating panic.


“Happening” retains a quotient of mass hysteria (most recently suggested in “The Mist”), but the feelings of horror reside in the solid abilities of Wahlberg, Deschanel and Sanchez to manifest earnest loving, caring for each other believable moments alongside non-hysterical “I’m going to die next” emotions. Suffice to say, empathy jettisons in buckets from the screen.


Assigning theoretical script ‘holes’ would seep into the film’s supernatural vibrations. The director provides hints of ‘why,’ but they must be left unchallenged in a review. To do otherwise would elaborate on the thesis upon which the entire premise rests. Call that a hedge on behalf of not revealing spoilers, but if you appreciated all of his other flicks — “The Village,” “Sixth Sense,” “Signs” and “Unbreakable” — you’ll be rewarded for executing a decision to see “The Happening.”


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Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com
 
 

 

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