What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this tense horror film is the first one from writer-director M. Night Shyamalan to earn an R rating -- and for good reason. It's loaded with violent, bloody images and is much more graphic than the PG-13 movies that have earned him a following among teens. It revolves around people falling victim to an airborne toxin that induces suicidal behavior -- consequently, there's a constant stream of self-inflicted deaths throughout the film, many of them quite graphic (falling from heights, gunshots, car crashes, heads going through windows, etc.).
What's the story?
In New York, Philadelphia, and other East Coast cities, mass outbreaks of suicidal behavior and mania result in chaos and panic. THE HAPPENING follows Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) as their flight from the unknown becomes more and more desperate. Science teacher Elliot tries to figure out what, exactly, is going on, even as he and Alma take on responsibility for Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), the daughter of their friend Julian (John Leguizamo).
Is it any good?
The Happening feels like a throwback to '70s cautionary disaster B-movies like Day of the Animals or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with nature itself seeming to turn against humanity. The mood of many individual scenes -- spooky, scary, and grim -- works. But when you move past the bodies and blood, the structure of the movie itself feels curiously slack, with Elliot and Alma running for safety as things go from bad to worse. There's no real underlying plot arc to the film, and the critical event is set along a completely arbitrary timeline that the lead characters have no power to affect.
So, while The Happening meanders from horrible vision to grim vignette, it doesn't really cohere as a story -- there's a lot of running, a lot of worrying, and plenty of bad things happening to good people, but it never quite engages the viewer. (Wahlberg also doesn't quite have the chops as a leading man to make us believe in his character; many of his scenes feel more accidentally amusing than deliberately dramatic.) The Happening revolves around an intriguing idea and features a few striking images, but ideas and images aren't a substitute for storytelling and screenwriting. The Happening may have a few chills and scares, but it doesn't have the plot structure or sense of real tension that would tighten its loose collections of scenes into an iron chokehold of horror and dread.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about what makes a movie R-rated versus PG-13. Parents, ask your kids' opinion on the difference in the two ratings. Do kids think they're ready to see R movies? Why? Explain why you want them to see things that are age-appropriate, and ask them why they think the studio made Shyamalan's "first R rating" such a big selling point. Families can also discuss what makes a movie scarier -- seeing horrible things happen or anticipating them? Why? Why do people seem so eager to embrace visions of terror and devastation?