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The Happening (***)
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
written by M. Night Shyamalan
The Happening
Principal 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 -- Joey
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

The Happening is the first movie where I have felt real fear since I was a child.

What pass for horror movies these days are seldom designed to induce fear. Fear, after all, is an unpleasant emotion, though the relief afterwards is pleasant.

There are the horror movies, like Saw, designed to produce erotic satisfaction in sadists, or so I assume. It is hard for me to tell, because I am not of the sadist persuasion, nor do I go to Saw movies. Then there are the horror movies where you experience self-righteous satisfaction when women who have sex out of wedlock are killed or when teen-agers who have sex before marriage are killed. I'm not much of a fan of those, either. And there are the horror movies which produce roller-coaster thrills, like Final Destination, where each horrible death produces a shriek of laughter. Those are more to my taste.

But fear? Watching The Happening, I was afraid. It is a very intense movie, and the R rating has nothing at all to do with language or sexuality.

By and large, the critics have panned The Happening. I am trying to figure out why. I think the biggest problem is that M. Night Shyamalan is an intelligent writer, and he writes about intelligent characters -- not the geniuses who populate the fringes of science fiction movies, but ordinary people who do not do stupid things and who try to solve their problems like adults. Not the kind of people with which movie critics can identify.

And I do not have great hopes for the film's box office. There are no heroes or villains, just sympathetic people caught in a horrifying situation. The humor is my favorite kind of humor -- things that are funny because they are so true. No jokes about fat people, or Black people, or about stupid people. No jokes about going to the bathroom or about sex. Still, there are some nice funny moments amid the terror.

Most important, the film does not have a surprise ending. M. Night Shyamalan is typecast as the director who always has a surprise ending, and though most of his movies do not fit that mold, critics still expect him to produce a surprise ending. But nothing spoils a surprise ending more than anticipation of a surprise ending, so Shyamalan's recent films have avoided them. (The critics haven't noticed.)

I almost didn't go to The Happening, because of the bad press. I'm glad I went.

Copyright © 2008 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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