In THE HAPPENING, M. Night Shyamalan serves up over-the-top, apocalyptic strangeness. The film opens onto New York City's Central Park with a crowd of people enjoying an idyllic summer day. The carefree scene soon takes a terrifying turn, when out of nowhere, hordes of people begin to commit suicide en masse. People scramble to make sense of the pandemonium, and many believe it is a terrorist attack. It appears that some sort of deadly toxin is being released into the air. Cut to Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) a science teacher in Philadelphia. When he learns of the attack on New York, he meets up with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel), his friend Julian (John Leguizamo), and Julians's daughter, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). They make plans to get out of the city via train, but the train is evacuated in the middle of a small Pennsylvania town. When they learn that the mysterious toxin is spreading its way across the Northeast, they break up into groups, with Elliot, Alma, and Jess running through open farmland in search of safety. They are unsure of where to hide, or what exactly they are hiding from, until Elliot slowly forms a theory about the threat. He fights to keep Alma and Jess free from harm, and the film builds to a bizarre, unsettling climax, with Shyamalan's usual surprise ending.
Shyamalan's premise of escaping an unknown, unexplainable attack is a timely one, and is quite chilling in concept. However, while he at times appears to be groping for the frenzied scariness of THE BIRDS, THE HAPPENING's outlandish death scenes and implausible plot line often veer closer to B-movie classics. The film doesn't match the clever creepiness of THE SIXTH SENSE, but for fans of campy horror à la THE EVIL DEAD, it is truly something to behold.
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