The Happening

Movie review by
James Rocchi, Common Sense Media
The Happening Movie Poster Image
Horror film is long on peril, but thin on plot.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 18 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 30 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Take care of others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters have a somewhat troubled marriage; extensive discussion of "terror attacks" as the events in the film begin. One supporting character leaves his child with the main characters, a process that involves extensive discussion of human behavior in a crisis and responsibility. Many suicides.


Extensive violence throughout, primarily self-inflicted suicides through a variety of methods -- including a hairpin through the neck, leaping from heights, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, submitting to animal mutilation, self-inflicted car crashes, lying down in front of industrial gardening equipment, heads driven through windows, and much, much more. Two characters are blasted with shotguns on screen. Many of the violent sequences are quite bloody, and many dead bodies are seen on screen, from hanging victims to falling victims to bloody bodies in the distance.


Sporadic, including "a--hole" and "p---y."


Only one brand is visible, on an Avatar: The Last Airbender backpack (director Shyamalan is making a big-screen version of the title, so it's likely a coy plug).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What 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.).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 5, 7, and 12-year-old Written byMiss Gloack May 24, 2014


My son was 6, 6 years ago and he was doing carpool with a friend and when he arrived at his house this movie was on. The other boy lied to my son and said it wa... Continue reading
Adult Written by@@@ December 17, 2011


An awful film. I didn't find it scary at all. The directing is really, really bad, the plot involves nothing but aa group of people running from wind and p... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byChipMunk1110 December 4, 2020

Extremely violent, but great film.

I love this movie, it's in my top ten movies of all time list, it's truly great. However, this is not meant for kids. At the time I watched this it wa... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old April 22, 2019


This movie is a bit boring.

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.

Talk to your kids 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?

  • What's the appeal of horror movies?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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