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The Happening

Theatrical release poster
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by Barry Mendel
Sam Mercer
M. Night Shyamalan
Written by M. Night Shyamalan
Narrated by Andrew Rhodes
Starring Mark Wahlberg
Zooey Deschanel
John Leguizamo
Ashlyn Sanchez
Spencer Breslin
Betty Buckley
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Tak Fujimoto
Editing by Conrad Buff
Studio Spyglass Entertainment
UTV Software Communications
Blinding Edge Pictures
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) June 12, 2008:
June 11, 2008:
Belgium, France
June 13, 2008:
United States, United Kingdom, India, Brazil
Running time 90 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget US $48 million
Gross revenue Domestic

The Happening is a 2008 American thriller film written, co-produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan that follows a man and his family as they try to escape from an inexplicable natural disaster. The plot revolves around a mysterious neurotoxin that causes any person coming into contact with it to commit suicide. The protagonist, a science teacher named Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), attempts to escape from the substance with his wife and friends as hysteria grips the East Coast of the United States. It was advertised as being M. Night Shyamalan's first R-rated film and received mostly negative reviews from film critics.



In Central Park, New York City people inexplicably begin committing mass suicide. First they become disoriented and motionless, then resort to the most convenient means of killing themselves. Initially believed to be a bioterrorist attack using an airborne neurotoxin, the epidemic quickly spreads across the northeastern United States, slowly moving from large population centers to smaller and smaller areas.

Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), a high school science teacher in Philadelphia, receives news of the epidemic at school and decides to leave the city by train with his wife, Alma Moore (Zooey Deschanel), to Harrisburg. They are accompanied by his friend and fellow teacher Julian (John Leguizamo) and Julian's eight-year-old daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Julian's wife is stuck in Philadelphia but is expected to follow them in the next train to Harrisburg. En route the train loses radio contact with all major stations and stops at a small town to let the passengers off.

They receive word that Philadelphia has been attacked too and Julian's wife was not able to get on the train to Harrisburg. She hitched a ride to Princeton, New Jersey instead. Julian, concerned for his wife's safety, decides to go look for her, leaving his daughter with Elliot and Alma. He hitches a ride with several others headed to Princeton NJ. Upon arrival they discover that the town has already been hit by the toxin, and shortly thereafter succumb to it and kill themselves.

Elliot, Alma and the now-fatherless Jess manage to hitch a ride with a botanist (Frank Collison) and his wife (Victoria Clark). The botanist believes that trees and plants are responsible, as he mentions that they can release chemicals to defend themselves from threats (humans, in this case). After driving for some time through the country, they find themselves at a desolate crossroads surrounded by infected towns. They are joined by groups from every direction. A U.S. Army soldier suggests that they move on foot away from major urban areas to avoid being infected.

The survivors split into two groups, with Elliot, Alma, and Jess in the smaller group. When the larger group is suddenly affected by the toxin, Elliot realizes that the botanist was right, and deduces that the plants are targeting large groups of people. Elliot splits the group into smaller pockets, isolating himself, Alma, and Jess, as well as two teenage boys, Josh (Spencer Breslin) and Jared (Robert Bailey, Jr.).

The group comes upon an apparently abandoned home and searches it for food, only to discover that it is a builder's decorated model home. They are forced to flee when another group of people starts making their way onto the property, triggering a release of the neurotoxin. The next house they come upon is sealed up, its residents trying to protect themselves from the epidemic. Elliot's attempts to reason with them fall on deaf ears, and the teens are shot dead when they attempt to force their way in.

Elliot, Alma, and Jess continue to travel cross-country. They stumble upon the isolated house of one Mrs. Jones (Betty Buckley), an elderly oddball who keeps no contact with the outside world and is, therefore, unaware of the current disaster. Although she permits the trio to stay the night she proves a harsh and paranoid host, constantly accusing them of conspiring to rob or murder her.

The following morning while standing in her garden, Mrs. Jones becomes affected: the plants are now targeting individuals. Elliot locks himself in the basement to protect himself. He is separated from Alma and Jess, who are playing in the neighboring spring house. They are able to communicate, however, through an old talking tube, with which Elliot warns them of the threat and has them shut the windows and doors. Conversing with his wife, Elliot expresses his love for her before deciding that if he is to die he would prefer to spend his remaining time with her. The three leave the safety of their buildings and embrace in the yard, surprised to find themselves unaffected by the neurotoxin. The outbreak seems to have abated as quickly as it began, just as a scientist predicted on a television show the previous day.

Three months later, Elliot and Alma have adjusted to their new life with Jess as their adopted daughter. On television an expert interviewee, comparing the event to a red tide, warns that the epidemic may have only been a warning, like "the first spot of a rash". The expert states that humans are a threat to the planet, and that the public would probably believe his theory if another location was impacted by this happening. Elliot takes Jess to the bus stop for her first day of school while Alma stays at home timing a pregnancy test, which turns out positive. When he returns, Alma embraces him with the news in front of their apartment.

In Paris, at the conclusion of the film, the pandemic appears to reoccur when people walking through the Tuileries Garden of the Louvre Palace suddenly hear a scream and cease to move as the wind rustles through the trees and the sky turns dark.


  • Mark Wahlberg as Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher from the city of Philadelphia, who is married to Alma.
  • Zooey Deschanel as Alma Moore, Elliot's estranged wife.
  • John Leguizamo as Julian, a high school math teacher and Elliot's best friend.
  • Ashlyn Sanchez as Jess, Julian's daughter.
  • Spencer Breslin as Josh, a teenage boy who with his friend Jared joins up with Elliot, Alma, and Jess.
  • Frank Collison as The Nursery Owner, the greenhouse owner, who also believed what was causing the events.
  • Betty Buckley as Mrs. Jones, a woman who lives alone in an isolated house in rural Pennsylvania.
  • Jeremy Strong as Private Auster, a Private First Class in the United States Army who fled from his base after finding all of the Soldiers there have killed themselves using barbed wire.
  • M. Night Shyamalan is credited as "Joey", the man with whom Alma secretly meets, although the character does not appear on-screen.
  • Victoria Clark as Botanist's Wife, the wife of the nursery owner.
  • Robert Bailey Jr. as Jared, Josh's friend.
  • Reggie Kania as Reggie, Jared's friend.
  • Yonathan Parra as Zito, Josh's friend.
  • Don Castro as Philadelphia Police Officer, traffic cop in Rittenhouse Square Park.


The Happening
Soundtrack by James Newton Howard
Released June 3, 2008
Genre Soundtrack
Label Varese Sarabande
Professional reviews

The soundtrack for The Happening was composed by James Newton Howard. It was released on June 3, 2008.

  1. "Main Titles" - 2:18
  2. "Evacuating Philadelphia" - 2:21
  3. "Vice Principal" - 1:56
  4. "Central Park" - 2:58
  5. "We Lost Contact" - :59
  6. "You Can't Just Leave Us Here" - 1:43
  7. "Rittenhouse Square" - 1:59
  8. "Five Miles Back" - 1:13
  9. "Princeton" - 3:06
  10. "Jess Comforts Elliot" - 2:31
  11. "My Firearm Is My Friend" - 2:59
  12. "Abandoned House" - 1:32
  13. "Shotgun" - 4:27
  14. "You Eyein' My Lemon Drink?" - 4:28
  15. "Mrs. Jones" - 1:44
  16. "Voices" - 1:36
  17. "Be With You" - 3:41
  18. "End Title Suite" - 8:36


In January 2007, Shyamalan submitted a spec script entitled The Green Effect to various studios, but none expressed interest enough to purchase it. The director collected ideas and notes from meetings, returning home to Philadelphia to "rewrite" it, and finally 20th Century Fox greenlit the project.[1] Now titled The Happening, the film was produced by Shyamalan and Barry Mendel and is the former's first R-rated project.[2]

In March 15, 2007, Shyamalan describes the film as "a paranoia movie from the 1960s on the lines of The Birds (1963) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)."[3]

Later in March, Wahlberg, with whom Shyamalan had been negotiating at the same time as his deal with Fox, was cast into the lead role of the $57 million project. Shyamalan had previously cast Wahlberg's brother Donnie in The Sixth Sense. An India-based company, UTV, co-financed fifty percent of the film's budget and distributed it in India, while Fox took care of other territories. Production began in August in Philadelphia.[4] The release date was June 13, 2008, intentionally set for Friday the 13th to suit the thriller.[4]

Critical reception

The Happening has received mostly negative reviews from film critics.[5] Rotten Tomatoes reported that only 18%, based on 168 reviews, gave positive appraisals.[6] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film scored a 34, based on 38 reviews.[5]

On June 8, 2008, days before the first few reviews for the film came online, M. Night Shyamalan had this to say to the Daily News (New York): "We're making an excellent B movie, that's our goal."[7]

Some critics liked it because of this. In fact, Glenn Whipp said, "Tamping down the self-seriousness in favor of some horrific silliness, M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Happening' plays as a genuinely enjoyable B-movie for anyone inclined (or able) to see it that way.[8]

Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter said the film lacked "cinematic intrigue and nail-biting tension" and that "the central menace [...] does not pan out as any kind of Friday night entertainment."[9] Variety’s Justin Chang felt that it "covers territory already over-tilled by countless disaster epics and zombie movies, offering little in the way of suspense, visceral kicks or narrative vitality to warrant the retread."[10] Mick LaSelle at San Francisco Chronicle felt that the film was entertaining but not scary. He commented, too, on Shyamalan's writing, opining that, "instead of letting his idea breathe and develop and see where it might go, he jumps all over it and prematurely shapes it into a story."[11] Time's Richard Corliss saw the film as a "dispiriting indication that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has lost the touch".[12] Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips thought the film had a workable premise, but found the characters "gasbags or forgetful".[13] Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal said that the film was a "woeful clunker of a paranoid thriller" and highlighted its "befuddling infelicities, insistent banalities, shambling pace and pervasive ineptitude".[14]

Stephen King liked the film, stating "Of Fox's two summer creepshows, give the edge to The Happening, partly because M. Night Shyamalan really understands fear, partly because this time he's completely let himself go (hence the R rating), and partly because after Lady in the Water he had something to prove."[15] Critic Roger Ebert, of Chicago Sun-Times, awarding the movie 3 out of 4 stars, found it oddly touching: "It is no doubt too thoughtful for the summer action season, but I appreciate the quietly realistic way Shyamalan finds to tell a story about the possible death of man."[16] The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis praised Wahlberg's lead performance, adding that the film "turns out to be a divertingly goofy thriller with an animistic bent, moments of shivery and twitchy suspense".[17] Philipa Hawker of The Age gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars, commenting on "the mood of the film: a tantalising, sometimes frustrating parable about the menaces that human beings might face from unexpected quarters," drawing especial attention to "the sound of the breeze and the sight of it ruffling the trees or blowing across the grass — an image of tension that calls to mind Antonioni's Blowup."[18] Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times stated "It almost dares you to roll your eyes or laugh at certain scenes that are supposed to be deadly serious. But, you know what, I appreciated this creatively offbeat, daring sci-fi mind-trip."[19]

The Happening has also attracted academic attention. Joseph J. Foy, professor of politics and popular culture, describes Shyamalan's film as an expression of "post-environmentalism" in which traditional paradigmatic politics are replaced with a call for the world to "embrace a revolutionary reevaluation of wealth and prosperity not in terms of monetary net worth or material possessions, but in terms of overall well-being." [20] Foy praises the highly complex narrative in which Shyamalan weaves contemporary environmental challenges with hard science and social theory to create a "nightmarish future that... may advance the type of dialogue that can truly change the cultural conversation."

The film was nominated for Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor (Mark Wahlberg, along with his performance in Max Payne) and Worst Director (M. Night Shyamalan) at the 29th Golden Raspberry Awards; it lost in the former three categories to The Love Guru, while the Worst Director prize went to Uwe Boll.

Box office performance

On its opening day, The Happening grossed $13 million. Over the weekend, the total gross came in at $30,517,109 in 2,986 theaters in the United States and Canada, averaging to about $10,220 per venue, and ranking #3 at the box office, behind The Incredible Hulk and Kung Fu Panda.[21] Foreign box office gross for opening weekend was an estimated $32.1 million.[22] Total gross for that weekend was $62.7 million. The total gross of the film as of July 5, 2009 stands at $163.4 million.

Home media

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on October 7, 2008. It opened at #3 at the DVD sales chart, making $11.3m off 566,000 units sold in the first week of release. As of December 2009, 1,094,000 DVD units have been sold translating to over $21m in revenue.[23] It appeared at the top of rentals chart in its first week of release[citation needed], beating out all other new releases.


  1. ^ Michael Fleming. "Shyamalan re-working 'Green'". Variety (Reed Business Information date=2007-01-28). Retrieved 2007-03-22. 
  2. ^ Michael Fleming (2007-03-06). "Fox lands Shyamalan movie". Variety (Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2007-03-22. 
  3. ^ "Shyamalan to find form with new apocalyptic thriller". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  4. ^ a b Michael Fleming (2007-03-29). "Wahlberg to star in 'Happening'". Variety (Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2007-03-29. 
  5. ^ a b "Happening, The (2008): Reviews". Metacritic. CNET Networks, Inc. Retrieved 2008-10-07. 
  6. ^ "The Happening Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN Entertainment, Inc. Retrieved 2009-08-24. 
  7. ^ "Shyamalan back on terror firma". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  8. ^ "Shyamalan 'The Happening' offers horrific silliness, B-movie style". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  9. ^ Kirk Honeycutt, "Film Review: The Happening", The Hollywood Reporter, June 10, 2008, Accessed Jun 13, 2008.
  10. ^ Justin Chang (2008-06-10). "The Happening". Variety. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  11. ^ Mick LaSelle (2008-06-13). "Movie review: Urban flight in 'The Happening'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  12. ^ Richard Corliss (2008-06-12). "Shyamalan's Lost Sense". Time.,8599,1813911,00.html. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  13. ^ Michael Phillips (2008-06-13). "Movie review: 'The Happening'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  14. ^ Joe Morgenstern (2008-06-13). "Film Review". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  15. ^ Stephen King (2008-07-11). "Horror Movies: Why Big Studio Releases Are Rare to Scare". Entertainment Weekly.,,20210538,00.html. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  16. ^ Roger Ebert (2008-06-12). "The Happening". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  17. ^ Manohla Dargis (2008-06-13). "Something Lethal Lurks in the Rustling Trees". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  18. ^ Philippa Hawker, The Age
  19. ^ Richard Roeper (2008-06-14). "The Happening". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2009-01-03. 
  20. ^ Joseph J. Foy (February 2010). ""It Came From Planet Earth: Eco-Horror and the Politics of Postenvironmentalism in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening" in Homer Simpson Marches on Washington: Dissent through American Popular Culture". University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved 2010-02-28. 
  21. ^ "The Happening (2008) - Weekend Box Office Results". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  22. ^ "'Happening' hammers 'Hulk overseas". Comics2Film. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  23. ^

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