IWISYDHT: The Happening
Written by Selene Price on November 2, 2021
Title: The Happening
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Runtime: 1hr 30min
TW: Mass Suicide
How would you like to feel completely lost for a full hour and thirty minutes?
The Happening is an aimless, confused film. It carries on far too long for something that takes place during a single day. We follow science teacher Elliott (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) trying to find somewhere safe to go during what is believed to be a terrorist attack, as a series of violent deaths begin occurring in the northeast United States.
The movie opens with two women in Central Park at 8:33 in the morning. Time is always extremely specific throughout the movie, but it’s probably the only thing that really makes sense in the entire film. The first woman says she forgets where she is in the book she’s reading, to which the second woman responds with: “You’re at the place where the killers need to decide what to do with the crippled girl.” A truly beautiful start to the movie.
The second woman then asks if her friend heard ‘that’, but the only noise we see that was heard in the subtitles is wind whistling. She continues on to asks if her friend sees ‘that’ and claims it looks as though people are clawing at themselves, that she sees blood. When it cuts to the next scene however, all we see is people sitting down on blankets in the park in the distance, and one person standing along the path before he begins walking backwards.
People all around Central Park have begun doing this — standing still with a single person walking backwards with only the second woman seeming to notice it. She tries talking to her friend, but she’s still asking what page she’s on. The first woman then removes the single chopstick from her hair to push it into her own neck, like a knife through butter.
We cut to a construction site that we’re told is specifically three blocks from Central Park at 8:59 in the morning. Construction workers on the ground look up as the bodies of their coworkers begin jumping from the unfinished building above.
We immediately cut to a dead silent classroom in Philadelphia at 9:45 in the morning. We’re introduced to Elliott, a science teacher at a local high school. He very slowly speaks to his students about the declining population of honeybees, and asks their theories on why that might be. We leave off with pollution and global warming being potential causes. Elliot then asks a student why he isn’t interested in science and proceeds to tell him his face is perfect. If that seems out of nowhere to you, you aren’t the only one.
Elliott also tells the student his face is only perfect at fifteen, even though the actor looks like he’s nearing twenty, and the student finally gives in and says the disappearance of honeybees is most likely an act of nature and we’ll never fully understand it.
Subtlety is gone right out the gate, very cool.
There’s an incredibly awkward scene where the Vice Principal comes in to see Elliot. He responds by ducking behind the desks and calling her the dark lord while flipping the lights off. She turns them on, and takes him to the auditorium where they’ve gathered what Elliott says is every teacher in the high school. The Principal addresses them all, saying school is excused as it’s believed what happened in Central Park was a terrorist attack.
The Principal also says it’s believed to be an airborne chemical toxin. Despite it only being an hour after the event took place, the warning signs are known: confused speech, physical disorientation, and the last stage where you end your own life. Elliott says Central Park is an odd choice for a terrorist attack, and the teachers are then dismissed with nobody acknowledging that he spoke.
Now back in his classroom, Elliott asks his students to repeat the rules of scientific investigation, something I’m positive won’t matter later, as they’re leaving. He’s pretty calm for someone who just learned there’s an airborne toxin that causes you to end your own life, but after everything I’ve seen from the first ten minutes, I’m really not surprised.
As the last few students are leaving, he calls them, but when they pause he says never mind. The audience didn’t really need such an intense zoom on Elliott’s face when he dismissed them, but it won’t be the last time we see every pore on Mark Wahlberg’s face.
We meet Julian, Elliott’s colleague and supposed best friend, whose entire character is that he likes statistics and percentages because he’s a math teacher. Beyond having a daughter, that’s really about it for his character. He comes to Elliott’s classroom saying his mother called, hysterical about the attack. He’s confident nothing will happen in Philadelphia because of some statistic he came up with.
At least Julian’s mom seems to care at all about the supposed terrorist attack, because she tells Julian that Elliott and his wife Alma should come stay with her in New Jersey to get away from the area. As Elliott and Julian leave the school, Elliott stops them suddenly to tell Julian if Alma, his wife, is acting weird to just ignore it.
Elliott makes little to no sense, going from Alma is acting odd, to saying he didn’t say that and it’s just talk. When Julian is understandably lost in the conversation Elliott tells him to relax. Julian then tells Elliott that on the day of their wedding, he walked into the wrong room and saw Alma crying, and she isn’t the type to be there when you need her.
We meet Alma in a shot that’s way too close to her face as she watches the news. Then her phone rings with a call from someone named Joey. Instead of hanging up, she throws her phone onto the coffee table and watches it buzz with her eyes glancing wildly around the room. That’s pretty much all Alma does throughout the movie.
Elliott comes home and we learn they’re evacuating New York City, which is extremely impressive considering the attack happened two hours ago; something we know from the time seen in the corner of the broadcast.
He hurries upstairs and packs, and we’re shown his wedding photo with Alma and a plastic mood ring next to it. It must be extremely important to Elliott to take it given that he’s supposed to be packing to be away for an indeterminate amount of time.
Joey calls one more time before Elliott and Alma make it to the train station. Here they meet up with Julian and his young daughter Jess. Julian’s wife is stuck across town and will meet up with them at Julian’s mother’s house, which definitely will happen without a doubt. We once again cut to a news report that can somehow be heard in the very packed station. The new information this time is that autopsies on the first victims have already been completed, and it’s confirmed the toxin is a natural compound.
Julian is incredibly awkward about Alma being there, and when she notices, Alma pulls Elliott aside to talk to him for a moment. She says she’s not going to be sitting with them after she says outright that she’s upset. Whoever said you need to show instead of tell was an idiot, because it’s so much better to just outright be told how Alma is feeling.
It’s probably for the best, given how absolutely awful the acting is.
Now we’re at the fifteen minute mark and our main characters have boarded the train. We then cut away to Rittenhouse Park in Philadelphia at 11:31AM. It happens here exactly how it happened in Central Park, but this time we see a police officer turn his firearm on himself. It’s a game of telephone with the gun, because as soon as one person drops off after using it, three more people take their turn. The worst part of this scene is the shot of a man’s feet in ugly sandals that lingers for far too long.
We’re back to Alma on the phone with Joey, where she says he’s creeping her out with how much he’s called her. She then says all they did was eat tiramisu together and that was all it would be. That can’t be a euphemism, can it?
It doesn’t matter, since all he’s done is call her to say Boston was hit too. Our characters find out about Rittenhouse through strangers on the train, and we learn that Julian’s wife had to get on a bus to New Jersey instead.
The train stops everyone in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, and all the conductor says is they lost contact with ‘everyone’, which is clear enough for a crappy horror movie that I really don’t need to comment further on it.
Jess whispers to Julian that she’s afraid and when Alma asks what’s wrong, he says that Jess whispers to him and his wife when she’s upset. Which you think Alma would know, given that Jess has called her Aunt Alma, but it’s just another excuse for Alma to tell us she doesn’t like showing her emotions either, proving yet again that telling is superior to showing.
It looks like everyone on the train heads to the same diner with how busy it is. Alma is in line for the bathroom, Julian is off in a different line to order food for Jess, leaving her and Elliott alone. He takes off his tacky mood ring to distract her and when it turns yellow he says it’s predicting that she’ll laugh. She does eventually despite the fact that it’s still very clearly blue. At this point I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the only reason the ring was included in the movie at all.
A random woman comes up to Elliott to show him a video her sister sent her from the Philadelphia zoo of a keeper wandering into a lion’s pit and letting them tear his limbs off, with other people visiting the zoo witnessing this as well, from the screams in the background. It’s good to know that not even an airborne neurotoxin that makes you end your own life can’t stop a fun trip to the zoo!
We see Julian sweating profusely shortly before the diner’s occupants are worked into a frenzy from another news report. This one states it’s no longer considered a terrorist attack as smaller and smaller cities are becoming affected. The power to the diner goes out very conveniently, because the plot has to move forward somehow, and we watch Julian panic on his phone before people begin leaving to flee the town.
Julian splits from the group to go find his wife, leaving Jess with Alma and Elliott, and he seems to know he’s going to die so… why leave? Why not just wait to hear back from your wife, or wait until this all cools down first?
Julian throws another statistic at the audience about the chance the city his wife ended up in was hit and leaves, then gives Jess a picture of himself and his wife before he leaves with the stranger — was he just carrying that around in his pocket without a frame? Did he consider that it would get damaged, or were the numbers in his favor?
Alma, Elliott, and Jess get in a car with two strangers as well, who take them to their home to grab a few items. The man, whose name I don’t know but I’ll call Hotdog, immediately joins them in his greenhouse where they had been exploring. Out of nowhere asks if they like hot dogs. Elliott shrugs, and Hotdog goes on to say they’re the perfect shape and a great source of protein.
Then, Hotdog tells Elliott he knows what the cause of all this is. It’s plants — plants can release toxins. He then immediately turns around to ask Alma if she likes hot dogs, and instead of answering, she smiles and mouths the word no.
Well, he did need a personality trait, and at least he has a hobby.
Hotdog says goodbye to his plants and tells Elliott that plants react positively to human stimulus, which I’m not sure will matter later or not since there’s no real direction this movie is going in, and they all hit the road.
Now we’re cut to Julian still in the car, sweating like he ran a marathon, when he and the strangers he’s with come across bodies. A woman in the backseat won’t stop screaming so he gives her a mathematical riddle that she actually does make an attempt to solve. The others in the car are trying to plug the windows and vents to protect against the toxins that would definitely already be in the car, when Julian spots a tear in the fabric roof of the jeep. It’s here where the antagonist is yet again hinted at. I bet you’ll never guess what it is!
The driver purposely drives into a tree at such a low speed it’s impressive that it didn’t just give the driver whiplash. Anyone who survived takes care of that pretty quickly, and Julian’s officially gone from the movie. I certainly didn’t see that coming.
Back to Elliott and the group, they’re looking at a map and trying to find somewhere to stay. Hotdog’s wife thinks there are animal bodies up ahead despite the fact that it’s only been humans dying off, and she says to grab the binoculars from the back from when he was spying on the neighbors.
Nobody reacts to that, but sure, I suppose the binoculars need a reason to be in the car. With more bodies on the road, the group turns around, but not before we get a closeup shot of Hotdog’s car driving over some plants, which was incredibly important to include.
The only thing that happens in the next scene is a Private from a nearby military base running into our main group, then two other groups joining, each coming from different directions as there are more bodies from where they came. A larger group eventually forms from the collective people that have gathered in this one spot along some back roads.
Hotdog eats a hot dog that I can only presume is cold given that there’s no possible way he could’ve warmed it up, and tells Alma about how plants sometimes have the ability to target specific threats.
So now we know we have two antagonists. The wind and plants. I can only hope the rest of the movie is just as exciting as its premise.
The Private still believes it’s a terrorist attack and Elliott responds that he has no reason to disagree, even though he heard the broadcast at the diner saying that ‘experts’ no longer consider it a terrorist attack.
At the Private’s suggestion people split into groups and abandon their cars to move toward a town off the main roads, given that the terrorists could be watching for people. Now we’re in a random field, and Alma tells Elliott about Joey. He’s a friend from work and when she told Elliott she had work late, she actually went out with Joey for tiramisu.
Then, the wind starts blowing and the groups split off as arguments begin. The Private starts yelling about how his firearm is his friend. I’ll spare you the agony and tell you he and many of the people in the once large group end up dead pretty quick.
The gunshots continue going off as the smaller group Elliott, Alma, and Jess are part of stand around. Alma yells at Elliott asking him what they should do. He says he just needs a second, why can’t he just get a second, and I agree. If she would shut up for two minutes about not being the type of assholes to stand around and watch a crime happen, Elliott could come up with a better plan than outrunning the wind.
Which is what they do. The wind is literally the biggest threat, and our brave protagonists attempt to outrun it.
After using the scientific method he teaches his students, Elliott finally decides it is in fact plants, and it’ll be better if they all split off into tinier groups for some reason. Doing so seems to be successful, given the last large group gave themselves the perma-sleep.
The only point of the next scene where Elliott finds a radio is to drive home the point that global warming is causing a real issue, as that’s the only topic he hears coming through.
The group is now comprised of Elliott, Alma, Jess, and two teenage boys named Josh and Jared. I’m not sure what happened to Hotdog and his wife, since they disappeared back when everyone became a large group, but I’m pretty grateful I don’t have to hear any more random plant facts from him.
The new group ends up in a model home. They search for maps, and there’s a surprising amount of junk in the drawers for a fake house. Jared and Josh leave to explore while Alma takes Jess to the bathroom, and Elliott begins talking to a plant in the corner.
He tells the plant they’re only there to use the bathroom and leave, speaking in a calm, quiet way, before realizing it’s fake.
As they leave the model homes and get out to another field, a large sign about future deluxe homes being built in this area is seen, most notably the section that says “You deserve this!”
Yeah, subtlety is hard.
As the group walks through yet another field, Josh, or Jared honestly I couldn’t tell you, messes with Elliott’s mood ring after asking to see it. Elliott says it’s not a toy because it has meaning to him. I would’ve never guessed that it was important to him, especially not when he decided it was one of the most important things to take with when he had to leave home.
The group comes across a lone house in the distance, and Elliott stops before they go knock to tell Alma something. He says if they’re going to die, he wants her to know he went to the pharmacy a while ago. There was a very good looking pharmacist behind the counter. He went up to her to ask where the cough syrup was, and he didn’t even have a cough.
A completely superfluous bottle of cough syrup, like six dollars.
I wish I was joking. That’s nearly verbatim what Elliott says to her, to which Alma tears up and thanks him before the group moves toward the house to try to find food for Jess.
When nobody answers despite there clearly being someone inside, Jared and Josh begin attempting to kick in the door and pry the boards from the windows. You would think that Elliott would try to physically stop them, or even be more authoritative given that he’s been teaching kids this age for years.
You would be wrong, because Josh and Jared both get shot by the person inside the home.
We move on to the next scene, since beyond pretending to be upset for a few seconds Elliott, Alma, and Jess are relatively unphased. Our heroes make it to another house where a woman out on her porch lets them in.
With only a half an hour left to the film, we learn she doesn’t want to hear about anything going on in the world, but lets them inside. She also grows her own food, and avoids television and radio completely. She’s the best actor in the movie, which is really saying something.
During dinner the old woman, who I’ll call Glenda since the movie didn’t give her a name, tells Elliott and Alma about a room that connects to a shed in the backyard. There’s a pipe connecting the rooms that can make it sound as though you were right next whoever might be in the other area. I’m glad Glenda spelled out for us what they’ll be using in the future, because I’m just so positive I wouldn’t have understood otherwise, wouldn’t have understood with the very clear shots of the pipe where their voices come from.
Later that night, Jess falls asleep and Elliott and Alma talk about trying to stay here since it feels safe even if Glenda is weird. Glenda confirms she is indeed weird when she hears Elliott and Alma whispering and comes in and asks if they’re planning to murder her in her sleep.
Okay Grandma, maybe go to bed instead of standing around in your nightgown accusing some people you just met of conspiring murder plots.
Nobody seems traumatized at all despite seeing countless dead bodies and witnessing two teenagers be murdered up close. Nobody has any problem sleeping or eating, which you think Jess would have the most issues with as an eight year old that has witnessed all of that, and lost both her parents in one day.
Doesn’t matter, because the next day Glenda is acting strange in the garden. Elliott is the only one to witness her smashing in the windows with her head before taking her life offscreen. When Elliott attempts to find Alma and Jess after closing a door against his worst foe, the wind, he finds the room Glenda had told them about last night.
He can hear Alma and Jess playing, but through the connecting pipe he tells them to close the door, even though as a science teacher, or just a person with common sense, Elliott should know that wind can get in through cracks in doors or old windows. But sure, whatever, that works.
We finally learn what the deal with the mood ring is. Apparently Alma was shy on their date, and he bought her the ring and told her purple meant she was in love. When they checked the chart purple meant she was uh, aroused, which is not something I’ve ever seen on a mood ring in my entire life, but sure. If it gets Alma to emote beyond looking around wildly it’s fine.
The two of them decide they don’t want to die apart, so they sacrifice Jess along with them and stand outside in the wind waiting for something. Nothing happens, and at 9:58AM exactly, our protagonists head inside.
Cut to three months later, and from a very… very long scene of two people on the TV playing in Alma and Elliott’s house we learn experts around the globe don’t know exactly what the cause was. It only occurred on the east coast, and many speculate it was the environment doing its own thing to protect itself from humans. Sure, why not, if it gets this aimless ass movie to end, that works for me.
Alma sees Jess off for school, Elliott walks her to the bus stop, and we see Alma waiting upstairs for a pregnancy test that turns out positive. I was really rooting for them, these two people with no chemistry and a consistently awkward marriage. I’m so glad they could trauma bond enough to form a family.
The movie ends similarly to how it began, with two people in a park, one person repeating something, then everyone standing still. But this time… it’s in France.
In an interview, M. Night Shyamalan claimed he wanted to purposely make a B-Movie. But given that this movie came after the flop that was Lady in The Water, I have trouble believing he intentionally created a bad movie. It really seems like he gave the actors awkward direction, terrible dialogue, and this movie was vomited into existence.
It really did leave me speechless after my first viewing. The antagonist isn’t just plants creating this neurotoxin, but the wind spreading it around. I think the real villain is the awful face Mark Wahlberg makes the entire film.
I’m giving it one out of five stars because yep. It sure is a movie.