M. Night Shyamalan has sort of fallen out of favor with both audiences and critics since the much-maligned (albeit unfairly) “Lady in the Water” tanked at the box-office. It seemed as though these same critics were panning Shyamalan’s latest – the R-rated eco-horrorfest, “The Happening” – before the film even had a chance to hit theaters, leading to another disappointing box-office performance, and the trades questioning whether or not M. Night Shyamalan still had what it took to deliver another “Signs”, “The Sixth Sense”, or “The Village”. My question to them would be why should he want to? He’s been there and done that, and made the studios hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Let him have his fun, for awhile, and, hopefully, he'll churn out more great, gussied-up B-movies like “The Happening”.
Yes, that’s what The Happening is; a classic piece of sci-fi horror schlock dressed up in big-boy clothes. Sure, it’s got some A-list stars, and, sure, it was marketed with stone-faced aplomb, but at its very heart, Shyamalan’s latest is a paean to those great Drive-in flicks of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. “Day of the Triffids”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, even “Panic in Year Zero!”.
In The Happening, plants release a toxin that causes large groups of humans that the plants see as a threat to their existence to kill themselves, often in gory and hysterically funny ways. Mark Wahlberg plays a science teacher who flees New York after the first wave of “attacks” (it’s initially thought to be a chemical terrorist attack) with his wife (Zoey Deschanel), and a fellow teacher (John Leguizamo) and his young daughter. However, they soon discover that the entire northeast is experiencing this phenomenon, and, as every possible escape route becomes a dead end (literally), our heroes must come to terms with the fact that they are now an endangered species.
Anyone with a sense of humor and a basic understanding of the edicts B-movie filmmaking should find a lot to love about Shyamalan’s The Happening. It’s a film that never takes itself too seriously, and, while it is something of a “message movie”, said message has long been a staple of the genre; respect Mother Nature or pay the price. Sure, it happens to come at a time when it’s not only hip to be “green”, it’s downright essential, but I think Shyamalan expected us to find some humor in the execution of his message, and, sadly, it seems that most people missed that. The Happening is also, occasionally, quite scary, especially early on, with one scene in particular (bodies falling from girders of a construction site) serving as, perhaps, one of the most unsettling images I’ve seen committed to film. There’s also an especially creepy scene later on, involving a not-so-kindly elderly woman (played by the great Betty Buckley) who reluctantly takes our heroes in, that made me jump out of my seat.
The Happening comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p AVC encode that is surprisingly grainy for such a recent release, but, thankfully, the grain only negatively impacts darker scenes , of which there are few. Much of the action in this film takes place in brightly lit exteriors, and, here, the image is lush and vibrant, with fairly solid detail and depth.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is, at first, a bit unassuming, but creeps up on you as the action takes hold. The surrounds are awash in subtle effects like soft wind, the rustling of the leaves in the trees, wind chimes, and the like, while the front of the house delivers crisp and clear dialogue that has a nice, organic tonal quality. The Happening isn’t a particularly loud film, but, when it needs to, the bass rolls through the subwoofer with force and fortitude.
Extras are fairly abundant, and presented in 1080p. Supplements include the making-of featurette,“Visions of The Happening”, a host of shorts focusing on shooting particular scenes, a gag reel, extensive amounts of deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a PiP view mode that sports loads of factoids and cast information, and more. There's also a second disc featuring a Digital Copy of the film for download to your portable media devices.
I had a blast with The Happening, despite (or, maybe, thanks to) all of the negative stuff I heard going into it. The Blu-ray from Fox is a solid package, sporting a nice selection of bonus materials, and while I wasn't as blown away by the picture quality as I'd hoped, it's still a quality transfer overall. My advice is to pop up some kettle corn, crack open a cold brew, shut off your logic filter, and just sit back and enjoy "The Happening" for what it is; a fun and frightening throwback to the golden age of Sci-fi/horror cinema.