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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

HubrisWeen 3, Day 8: The Happening (2008)

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Mark Wahlberg:  Elliot Moore
Zooey Deschanel:  Alma Moore
John Leguizamo:  Julian

I've been a film nerd since I first read books on movie monsters back in the kids' section of the Wheaton Public Library; as I've mentioned on the Checkpoint before, I wanted to see Clash of the Titans at a drive-in because even when I was six years old I knew who Ray Harryhausen was and wanted to see his stop-motion monsters on the biggest big screen available.

But it wasn't just the legends who changed filmmaking with their talents that I knew about. I can remember reading an article in Readers' Digest about Alan Smithee, the Directors' Guild official pseudonymous director who takes the blame for any film that was taken out of its original director's control and made awful. Eventually the name became much more well-known than it was; I've never actually seen An Alan Smithee Film:  Burn Hollywood Burn, but the director got his name scrubbed from it for being terrible (and not his fault according to the arcane standards and practices of the Directors' Guild of America). But I did see Hellraiser:  Bloodline in the theater and when I saw it was directed by Smithee I said "Aw, fuck" nice and loud before I remembered I was in public. I like to think of that moment from the point of view of someone else in the theater, who didn't know anything about the Smithee name and who just wanted to see that guy with the tacks in his skull in space. What must he have thought when he heard my reaction? Probably something about film nerds who care too much about directors, I'm betting.

That memory leapt back into the forefront of my consciousness when I saw "Written, Produced and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan" in the credits of this film. Is there any name that--other than one or two times from the beginning of his career--promises a worse time at the movies? But this one starts with an H, and beggars can't be choosers when it comes to HubrisWeen. Oh, and I'm also risking the very real possibility that I can make tons of cheap jokes at this movie's expense. It's a chance I'm willing to take for you, dear readers.

The credits play out over a sky boiling with fluffy white clouds moving in a majestic ballet of creation, destruction and renewal. Then Shymalan takes credit for the movie and the screen goes black. A group of people in Central Park at 8:33 AM (of whatever summer day the scene takes place on) are milling about, and for once someone in Hollywood remembered that New York City has some people who are not white in it. The wind blows through the leaves as people carry on with their day. One woman, sitting on a bench reading a book, starts to notice odd things--faint noises that sound like screams in the distance, and people either standing frozen in mid-step or walking backwards around the park. She asks a friend if she's noticed any of the oddness, and her friend takes the chopstick keeping her hair styled out, then plunges it calmly into her own neck.

Three blocks away and about half an hour later, a quartet of construction workers have their dirty joke session interrupted when one of their coworkers who is actually doing his job falls from the top of a building under construction. They rush forward to call for an ambulance and see if there's anything they can do to comfort the poor guy when a second body hits the ground near them. And a third. By the time it becomes apparent that everyone on the top of the building has decided to check out via gravity and blunt force trauma, all the site foreman can do is try not to cry and say half a prayer.

At a quarter to ten at "Philadelphia High School" in Philadelphia, there's a science class in session. I guess it's not a summer day after all, or perhaps this teacher is stuck with the kids who didn't learn anything in the regular school session that year. The instructor, Elliot Moore, is asking his class why honeybees are vanishing (apparently without leaving bodies behind according to Mr. Moore, which suggests that they're being Raptured rather than just dying out). Moore solicits theories from a few students, then shoots them all down in turn. He also says one of the fifteen year olds in his class will grow ugly in the future, which is quite a dick move. Moore then says that whatever is causing the bees to disappear, science will never truly solve it. He also says that science in books is "just a theory" and that there are forces at work that humanity will never comprehend or understand.

...And I'm watching the first intelligent design-themed horror movie in history, aren't I? Shit.

Before Moore can go into his anti-vaccination theories or start yelling about the Time Cube, the vice principal shows up and says she has to talk to him in the hall. And by "hall" she means "in an auditorium with all the other teachers, who have been gathered individually to listen to the dean talk about stuff". This is where the line "There appears to be an event happening" lands with a meaty thud. The dean (Alan Ruck!) says that there's been a terrorist attack in Central Park; according to the prevailing theories, some kind of aerosol chemical was released into the air (which would explain all the bodies I guess are supposed to be everywhere--I just saw one neck stabbing and construction workers re-enacting the chorus to "It's Raining Men". At least at this point, the audience doesn't get a look at whatever news reports are going on (imagine the arguments over who has to go do a remote broadcast from the scene!), and the dean is just parroting what he's been told. He's got the warning signs on a handy list, though--first people will experience confused speech, then lose their sense of direction, and then die I'm assuming everyone within the area of effect kicks the oxygen habit, so there's nobody left behind to explain exactly what was going on.

The dean then says it's time to dismiss the students and tells the assembled teachers that they're going to pick up where they left off when they return (Moore tells his students to keep working on their science projects when they're home trying not to worry about whether or not they're going to be fatally poisoned by a terrorist attack). Moore lists the elements of scientific procedure, and his students all recite them with him--I'm willing to bet that Moore winds up being The Guy Who Figures Out What Is Up With All The Suicides about ten minutes before the end of the second act.

As the students leave there's a slow ominous zoom on the chalkboard where a quote attributed to Albert Einstein suggests that mass bee death could mean the end of the human species. Which is odd, because they bees have always been our friends. Soulful closeups of Mark Wahlberg's Concern Face are interrupted by math teacher Julian, who says his mother is calling his cell phone in a panic. Julian says his mom wants him to flee Philadelphia and go to her place, and that Moore and his wife Alma have an open invitation to hide there while the world falls apart.

Before that can happen, though, Julian has to tell Elliot that his wife regrets getting married to him, and that she's never going to contribute to the situation when it's really necessary. Why Julian picked this particular moment to make that speech, I will never be able to guess. We get a jump cut to Alma's Concerned Face expression while she watches a news report on the Central Park tragedy. Her cell phone buzzes with a call from "Joey", which she tries to smother--not that anyone is around to hear the phone go off or anything--and then puts it down on a table and watches it slide around while buzzing. Zooey Deschanel puts on a supremely goofy facial expression while this happens, bugging her eyes out and pressing her lips tightly shut.

A plot-relevant news broadcast shows a reporter who probably lost the rock-paper-scissors match about who was going to report from the Death Zone explaining that the current best theory for the mass of suicides is that a previously unknown neurotoxin somehow overrides and reverses the natural subconscious instinct for self-preservation. Alma explains it in smaller words:  "It makes you kill yourself. Just when you thought there wasn't any more evil that could be invented." I dunno, I've often joked that there's no ground floor in Hell when talking about human ingenuity--especially when it comes to ways to hurt people.

Elliot packs for the evacuation (stopping to look at a wedding picture and put on a mood ring) while Alma hangs up on "Joey" when he calls again. Look, it's your phone and your contacts list. Rename it something like "Customer Service" and it isn't anywhere near as much of a problem. Then it's time to skip over to a train station in Philadelphia where Elliot gets spotted by Julian (who has his daughter Jess with him) and another plot-relevant newscaster says the mystery toxin is a natural compound--which doesn't mean a heck of a lot right now, but plot-relevant newscasts always come up later.

Julian's wife was supposed to meet them at the train station, but is stuck in traffic and will be taking the next train to Harrisburg. For now it's Julian, Elliot, Alma and Jess trying to get the hell out of Philly before there's an attack, or happening, or situation, or whatever you want to call it there. But before they can get on the train, Alma has to say that she wants their fights to stay private because not everyone needs to know their business. Which is a laudable thing to be concerned about, but at this very second these people need to get the fuck on the train and leave Philadelphia rather than have a spat. Alma tells her husband she needs to sit by herself on the train and cool down. Then, at long last, there's a boarding call.

The train gets out of the city shortly before the wind starts blowing through the leaves at a park in Philadelphia. This leads to an admirably creepy scene where a cop shoots himself and a succession of other people pick up his gun to take care of themselves as well.

On the train, Alma calls Joey back to say that going out for dessert one time doesn't constitute a relationship. If she's so worried about his calls, I guess blocking his number would be the first thing I'd try to do. But talking to Joey means that Alma is the first one on the train to find out about the Philadelphia suicide plague (the news spreads quickly; in the year 2008, lots of people had cell phones and this movie actually knows that and works with it). Julian hears the news and calls his wife, but can't hear her over the chatter on the train. A text lets Julian know that his wife is on a bus to Princeton, so at least she isn't at immediate risk in Philadephila. But when Elliot talks to Alma he finds out that Boston's experiencing a Happening of its own. Alma asks her husband what's going on, and he puts on the Concern Face to say he doesn't know. (The Concern Face closeups always cut the actor's forehead off so the viewer can't see their hair. It's a puzzling choice.)

The train stops at a map speck of a town called Filbert; the engineer tells Elliot that the train lines are shutting down and everyone's gone as far as they're going to go by rail. Under a little indignant pressure from Elliot, the engineer says they've fallen out of contact with everyone. I'm sure that factoid will lead to peaceful cooperation between all the stranded people fleeing the mysterious suicide epidemic in their home city. Alma tells Jess that they're really similar because Alma doesn't like to show her emotions openly, and neither does Julian's daughter. Which may be the clunkiest line yet delivered. Elliot returns to the group without any useful information, and tells Julian's daughter that since they're in a small town, they aren't a target for whatever terrorist group has been spraying Suicide Juice over crowds of people. That's not very comforting, as it turns out.

The local diner in Filbert is doing land-office business to a crowd that is utterly silent so that we can hear the important people talk (which makes it the creepiest and most stilted episode of Seinfeld you're ever going to see). Elliot starts telling Jess that people give off different color auras depending on what emotion they're feeling at any given time, and offers her his mood ring so that they can scope out what she's feeling. I can't tell if he's just trying to make Jess feel better or if he really thinks that piece of costume jewelry has psychic emotion-reading powers. I mean, if you owned a mood ring in 1978 that's one thing, but Elliot's got one about three decades after the fad's expiration date.

The heartwarming "make Jess laugh to distract her from the apocalyptic awfulness" scene gets cut short when a woman in the diner shows a found-footage sequence of a zoo worker feeding his arms to a pride of lions. After the guy goes partial Black Knight, the woman with the iPhone says "Mother of God. What kind of terrorists are these?"; thank goodness she didn't put any kind of emotional spin or vocal inflection on that line. It might have been too terrifying for an American audience to take. Also, wouldn't the person taking the video have killed themselves as well? There's never just one suicide when The Happening happens. There are waves.

Unseen authority figures are working on the problem; with big cities, then little cities, then large towns and small towns (limited to the Eastern seaboard for the time being) all reporting suicide epidemics, it looks like it's not al Qaeda spraying Death Juice all over the place after all. For one thing, any accidental exposure to the toxin would mean that the person using it to affect the big cities would be one of the casualties in a matter of minutes. For another, it's not like towns the size of Filbert would fail to notice some new person running around--especially if they were wearing a biohazard suit and pumping a Flit gun or using a backpack-mounted weed sprayer pointing it at a crowd.

Things look even worse when the diner cook points to the Filbert's location on the news map of reported toxin-suicide locations; they're pretty much directly in the middle of the affected area. Seconds after that, the power goes out in the diner. One random person says that the TV map shows unaffected areas about ninety miles away; everyone in the place that has a car bugs out seconds after they hear that. Seconds after Alma grumps about how terrible people are, a couple with a station wagon offers transportation to the four protagonists. The people who own the car just want to stop by their plant nursery and pick up some stuff before the flee. I'm sure this will go well. Before he hops in the station wagon, Julian puts on his own Concern Face and says he can't raise his wife on the phone or via email. She's not shown up yet, and I'm betting that Julian is not going to be getting any further communication from her without a Ouija board.

Actually, he's not even getting into the station wagon. Julian found another group of people who are heading to Princeton, where his wife was heading, and they're letting him hitch a ride with them. But he's also realistic enough to leave his daughter with the other group out of safety concerns. Everyone involved tries (and fails) to put a brave face on the situation and Julian takes off in an oddly handled slow-motion shot looking back at his friends and daughter.

The nursery owners' house and greenhouse happen to feature a view of a nuclear plant's cooling towers; I bet they got a hell of a deal on the lot because most people don't want to look out the back window and think of Chernobyl after dinner. The Moores and Jess walk into the greenhouse to kill a little time while the nursery owner packs up his stuff, but returns in order to tell Elliot his theory that plants are emitting the neurotoxin. Apparently multiple species of them, because I'm reasonably sure that Central Park doesn't have the same fauna as every other place that was affected--and the map on the news had dozens if not hundreds of reported suicide plague spots.

But enough of that jazz, it's time to check in with Julian and the four other silent people packed into a Jeep that's driving off to Princeton. The people in the Jeep get surprised around a turn in the road to see several people from a landscape company hanging from trees (though they should have seen them LONG before the musical stinger hits and the camera moves to reveal the suicides). Once they realize they're in an affected area, the people in the Jeep try to seal off the inside but fail (there's a tear in the roof). The driver floors it and smacks into a tree (and if that was one of the neurotoxin trees, it had it coming, the bastard); Julian lives through the crash but gets out of the Jeep, sits down, and picks up a chunk of broken windshield to take care of his wrists.

So! Back to the hot dog enthusiasts and their passengers, now that a portion of Cast Thinner has been applied. Their trek gets interrupted when they spot several bodies in the road, so it's time to turn around and look for another route--which we see in real time. They come across a lone MP from a nearby Army base who thinks that the entire base has killed itself; when he hears that the road behind the protagonists has bodies all over it he lets loose with "Cheese and crackers"; thank goodness it's an R rated movie. A few other cars and trucks arrive and everyone tries to drop exposition on each other; Elliot thinks it over for a bit and decides that the hot-dog obsessed nursery owner who owned binoculars to spy on his neighbors might be on to something. After all, when the Happening started happening it was in parks instead of, say, sports stadiums, supermarkets or bowling alleys. Everyone who came from a different place says they saw bodies in the streets wherever they came from; the soldier decides that staying put is the best plan for the time being. I was hoping for someone to say "But the trees have always been our friends!", but that hope remains unfulfilled.

Hot Dog Guy tells Elliot that someone in the group is talking to her daughter in Princeton, and when Moore gets near her she's telling her child to stay locked in her bedroom and not to open the door for anyone. She also says to keep watch for strangers out of "that window with the tree", so we all know what's going to happen next. Elliot freaks out when he hears about bodies in the street and the woman is considerate enough to put her daughter on speakerphone before she kills herself so Elliot (and the viewing audience) can hear it Happening.

The Hot Dog Guy (played by a bearded version of the actor who was Wash Hogwallop in O Brother, Where Art Thou?) delivers another steaming pile of exposition, where he explains that tobacco plants being eaten by caterpillars can exude a chemical that attracts caterpillar-eating wasps. Evolution is horrifying and pitiless, kids, and don't you ever forget it. (And if you know anything at all about science, you're going to wince like I did when Hot Dog Guy first says that nobody knows how plants develop abilities like that, and then says that plants evolve them. That's...that's actually the answer you were looking for, Hot Dog Guy.)

The soldier busts out a map and explains that before he lost radio contact with everyone else everywhere else, the attacks were in big cities, then little ones, and then on roads leading out of the cities. He's on a road. Hell, everyone who's expecting him to help out is on a road with him! So it's time to leave the road and looking for a place to hunker down and hopefully not get exposed to neurotoxin. A local realtor says there's a nearby county that would only be on "local maps" instead of national ones. If they hide in Arundel county, they probably won't get killed. Sounds legit.

The soldier tells everyone to leave in groups--one group that can take off this minute, and a second group that will take things from their cars and actually prepare before hiking for several miles over uncertain terrain. Group one takes off and group two follows shortly thereafter. Elliot, Alma, Jess and a couple of day players are in group one, which means that group is toast. For that matter, about half of group two is probably gonna die as well. Alma decides that the hike while expecting random suicide impulses to strike at any time is the perfect moment to tell her husband who that Joey guy is. He's a coworker that she went out with and got dessert after work one day. She told Elliot she was working late but was in fact having tiramisu with this Joey character. She gets it off her chest so she can die with a clean conscience. Elliot gives the movie-standard response "You lied to me?" before the scene shifts to group one and wind blowing at length through the prairie grasses. Private Auster declares that his firearm is his friend and shoots himself.

Then, in a scene that I will admit is pretty effective, the narrative switches back to Elliot and his group. They hear single gunshots at irregular intervals as the first group starts checking out one at a time and the random conglomeration of people stuck together look to Elliot for leadership. He cracks a little under the pressure and tells himself "Be scientific, douchebag" while trying to get his brain to turn over. In a Concern Face monologue where he repeats the science fair instructions to his class in a panicky whisper he arrives at some kind of conclusion and tells his group that he thinks the plants are releasing the neurotoxin whenever people gather together into a large enough group to trigger the "YOU DIE NOW EVERYONE" stimulus. His group breaks up into three or four smaller groups and runs away from a gust of wind. Nobody dies, so either Elliot's plan worked (which is what the movie wants you to think) or he's a rambling idiot who doesn't know anything (which is my theory).

This is stupider than anything else in the movie so far, and this film has been hand-carved out of stupid by M. Night Shyamalan. 1) You can't outrun the wind. 2) If the plants where Group One was offing themselves were already releasing neurotoxin, splitting up into smaller groups as the wind blew the chemical into their mucous membranes just means that there will be three or four little piles of corpses in different locations rather than one medium-sized one. 4) If it worked, there's no way for the group to communicate with each other that it did work other than getting back together in a big enough knot to trigger the neurotoxin release again. 5) This is not the time to confess to your husband that you had a tiramisu without telling him. Partly because there are other concerns on everyone's mind at this point and partly because even in the least permissive parts of the Old Testament having a dessert with a coworker is not considered adultery.

After running about with vigor and abandon for a few moments the Elliot group (him, Alma, Jess and two boys named Jared and Josh--and what the hell is with all the J names, M.?) comes across a truck in the middle of a field. The door's open and the keys are in it, which probably means the owner went off for a walk or decided to eat a handful of razor blades and broken glass. There's no map in the truck, but everyone sees a house in the distance and goes there, for lack of a better plan. The house is also empty (and appears to be a model rather than an actual house someone lives in), but they find a map of the subdivision in it and notice the preponderance of big grassy plains around the houses. Elliot figures out that whether or not it's plants releasing toxins, it's still a ten mile hike to the local county that isn't on bigger maps and they need to stay as far away from other people as possible.

Alone in the rental office when Alma and Jess leave for a pit stop, Elliot attempts to talk to the potted plant in the corner. His diplomatic efforts fail when it turns out to be a plastic ficus. I cannot believe I just wrote that. And to give Mark Wahlberg credit, he really does commit to the scene where a man tries to talk to a plant in case he can convince it not to kill him.

Josh, in the dining room (complete with plastic sushi and resin-filled wine glasses), asks Elliot why the Happening is happening. Elliot says he doesn't know, but talks about ancient bacteria off the Australian coast that killed fishermen and ties it in to the bees disappearing; he says events like this happen, crest, and fall off. The lucky ones are still alive after that happens. If the end credits don't list that Elliot Moore went on to have a high-rated AM talk radio show after the events of the film, I'm going to feel even more ripped off than I currently do. Every time he tries to talk smart about the Happenings he gets closer and closer to talking about the Communist conspiracy to put fluoride in America's drinking water as a mind control plot.

When Elliot's group leaves the model home they see other stragglers making their way to the house, but when enough of them gather together the perfectly sculpted lawn vomits biotoxin all over them and they all freeze up. Elliot realizes that they need to beat feet once the biotoxin is in the air; once it dissipates to the point that it won't affect people they'll be safe again. That works for his group, but not for the doomed suckers he sees from a distance (including someone who starts up a commercial-grade lawn mower and lies down in front of it. Even the bargain-rate personal mower my dad owns has a deadman switch so that it won't run unless someone has their hands on the push bar, so this movie full of homicidal trees hosing people down with suicide spray just got unrealistic).

Elliot gets some relationship advice from Jared while walking along and Josh borrows his mood ring. In this scene all three of the male characters are wearing blue shirts and the mood ring is showing blue as well. That might well mean something (Shyamalan used red and purple as "the weird stuff is happening now" codes in The Sixth Sense and Signs, and the hero and villain in Unbreakable wore green and purple, respectively.) I'm honestly not interested enough in the movie to try and figure out what it means.

Alma finds a radio tied to a fence, as you do, and the group listens to fragments of the fifth or sixth plot-specific broadcast. If I ever write a monster movie, the ragtag group of survivors are going to be listening to sports talk radio and ads for debt relief companies, the Lawyer Who Cares, and erectile dysfunction pills. Anyway, when the group stops for a ten minute break because Jess's age is in single digits Elliot tells his wife that he almost bought a bottle of cough syrup because the pharmacist he was staring at was hot and he had to think of some reason to talk to her. She asks if he's joking, he nods, she thanks him, and I realize that the tree branches are acting more human than the human characters.

Elliot walks up to the front porch of a house with all the windows shuttered and boarded up. Josh or Jared says he can force the door open but Jared or Josh sees someone moving in the dark creepy house. The man inside says he's not opening the door because that will let poison gas in. Elliot says nobody out there is showing symptoms of neurotoxin exposure and they just want food for the eight-year-old girl in their group. In a failed attempt to prove that he's normal, Elliot sings a bit of the chorus of a Doobie Brothers song. Jared and Josh try to force the door and window shutters open while Elliot tries to keep the peace (since it's a house in America, and that means the person inside listening to news reports about anarchy and toxic gas is almost certainly armed). Jared and Josh exit the film in a pair of rifle shots and now at least Elliot doesn't have to worry about the group being big enough to trigger a biotoxin release. But at least the murderous redneck inside gives them three seconds to clear his porch before he shoots them too. Exeunt the three remaining protagonists.

A cutaway to show a professor from Carnegie Mellon University talking about the attacks shows people in Pennsylvania (in gas masks, which is a really good idea if there's an airborne toxic event going on) and Florida (just watching TV in a state of mild panic). The professor says that the Happening will be happening at peak intensity the following morning, which probably means every individual person near a blade of grass could set off a suicide spray. He also says that the Happening is working towards a peak, which will turn into a crest, which will then taper off (if his theories are right). The newscaster observes the proper journalistic precautions for a massive story like this by blaming the government and the CIA for the suicide plagues, quoting reports from an unnamed source of unknown veracity. I imagine Don Lemon wasn't available for this part, but he should have been.

After that interlude, the group stumbles across a deserted house and determines that nobody's been there in years (the driveway is overgrown and there's no lights on in any of the windows). When Elliot tugs on a bell pull on the porch an elderly white woman sitting clearly in his field of vision says it's for Clement, whoever that is, and Elliot (and the audience) are startled. The woman tells Elliot he must be lost because there's nothing around her house for miles, and then accuses him of "eyeing my lemon drink". Oh, great, another lunatic. At least she offers supper to the trio (although with a palpable lack of grace). Out of nowhere, the woman mentions not only that her house was a stop on the Underground Railroad but that there's a special hiding spot in the back connected to the main house via speaking tube. No way that's going to pay off in the next 25 minutes or so before the biotoxin Happening event crests and falls off, right?

The old woman then asks whether Elliot is romantically pursuing Alma or vice versa; when Jess reaches for a corn muffin at the center of the table she gets a stinging slap from the currently unnamed woman. The woman then reveals that she doesn't have a radio or television (and I'm guessing the internet is right out, which means Alma's Neopet is probably going to go hungry for another couple of days). When Elliot and Alma try to delicately raise the subject of what's going on the woman shuts them down completely and says she doesn't know or want to know about anything occurring out of her physical sight. Then she grumbles something about having to let the trio spend the night at her place.

The wind rustles through the various foliage outside in the establishing shot of the house at night; the Moores and Jess are in the guest bedroom and Elliot whispers stuff to Alma about staying inside for the night to stay safe. The old woman can hear them talking about her and she doesn't like it, accusing them of planning to kill her in the night and take her stuff. Elliot's denials look amazingly bad, like a malfunctioning robot attempting to look human. But the woman appears to buy it and walks off to get some sleep.

In the morning, Elliot wakes to find that he's alone in the guest room and heads downstairs to find Alma and Jess. He's swapped his blue shirt for a grey hoodie, which I think means he was a ghost all along. Exploring the silent, creepy house, he finds a large wooden doll on the bed in the old woman's room (check out the sheer number of creepy religious paintings on her wall!); when he gets a look at the doll's creepy shellacked face the woman pops up out of nowhere behind him and yells that he and the two other people with him are leaving, right now. She storms off and goes to mutter sentence fragments in her garden and then walk backwards as the wind blows over her. Elliot doesn't figure out what's up until the wind is almost on top of him; he also can't find Alma or Jess in the house and uses the technology of yelling to try and track them down while the creepy old woman starts beating her head against the outside walls before smashing a pair of windows with her face (letting in plenty of fresh air and setting up a crossbreeze laden with biotoxin).

Elliot barricades himself in the kitchen and hears Alma and Jess talking to each other through the previously mentioned speaking tube. When he tells Alma to close the windows and the doors to the spring house we get the single dumbest line of the film, courtesy of Zooey Deschanel:  "Why?"

Because every time the wind picks up you've seen people kill themselves, dumbass.

Despite having the self-preservation instincts of a milk-fed veal, Alma and Jess manage to shut the door and windows; Elliot tells them that it's currently too dangerous to go outside and that it might be the end of the world (or at least the end of anyone being able to live on the Eastern seaboard). Worst of all, his mood ring has gone bronze! That's a bad color! I think! It wasn't really established earlier or anything!

It turns out that Elliot bought Alma that mood ring on their first date; it turned purple which apparently meant "horny", according to the instruction booklet. His was blue, which meant "peaceful". Elliot says that if it's the end of the world he's going to be with his girlfriend, and tearfully marches off to join Alma and Jess at the springhouse where they are both perfectly fine, and not affected by the suicide toxin. He walks slowly out the door and towards Alma and Jess's safe spot (as opposed to holding his breath and making a run for it through the wind). Alma opens the door to meet him halfway and the power of love or some goddamned thing keeps them from dying as the plants try to get them to murder themselves. I wonder what color the mood ring turns when you're doing something painfully stupid.

They both live, as does Jess, which means that the crest may have passed for the Happening. The trio settles down to wait it out and then the film jumps to three months later. Jess is leaving for the first day of school and tells "Aunt Alma" that she loves her. It looks like they don't need Elliot back teaching for the time being because he's got time to see Jess off at the bus stop (which does not have any other students waiting there; how empty is Philadelphia at this point? Would it even make sense for people to try and come back?

A talking head show on the TV features a wildly gesticulating scientist who says that the Happening was an act of nature that nobody's ever going to understand (echoing Elliot's take on virtually everything that happens in nature from the classroom scene in the first act). The scientist says his take on it is that the Happening was the first noticeable symptom of an ongoing condition; the host says people can't believe that's the case because it Happened on the east coast of the United States, which makes perfect sense if it's the American government purposely killing its own citizens to test a bioweapon. I imagine the same "skeptics" the host refers to would say the same thing if it happened in, say, Alabama because it's safely away from the government facilities so it could be tested safely without risking the Eastern seaboard. Or in Belgium or Alaska or wherever.

Life continues to go on; Alma checks a pregnancy test and finds that she's gonna have a kid (presumably with Elliot, unless she got knocked up by having dessert with Joey that one time, which is a real thing that can happen according to the sex ed curriculum approved for use in Texas high schools).

Then, in Paris, people are walking around doing their thing in an open-air plaza when someone screams in the distance and tons of people freeze in their tracks while the wind blows and the screen goes black. Because that is how monster movies are supposed to end, even if your monster is a flower garden.

 Any ending is a good one at this point.

What a clunker. Overlong at ninety minutes, overstuffed with portentous line readings, full of bizarre framing choices and with science so ludicrous I'm not sure how any of the actors delivered a single line without bursting into laughter or tears. Mark Wahlberg says he took the job because he wanted to play something other than a cop or a crook, and I can applaud that. Shyamalan's name hadn't fully become a punchline at that point, so starring in a big hit movie should have been another one of Wahlberg's concerns. Too bad it was in this film, which would have to get orders of magnitude smarter to merely be stupid. At least I've finally found a movie that is stupider than Road House, but it's not even a fiftieth as entertaining as watching Patrick Swayze at his Swayziest cleaning up a cruddy tavern and doing shirtless tai chi.

HubrisWeen is an annual event where B movie bloggers go through 26 movies in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above to see what the other four participants chose for the letter H.


  1. I interpreted the poorly laid out threat as "plant pheromones deactivate the preservation instinct, which allows any negative feeling to be efficiently ended through suicide". Which means, yes, Mark and Zooey's tiramisu-transcending LOVE was so tremendous that it crowded out every single bad feel and even extended a powerful LOVE forcefield to the kid.

    This was the LEAST idiotic theory I could come up with to explain this plot. Great visual hooks (stopping, walking backwards...), but it couldn't overcome The Stupids.

  2. The most toxic substance you can OD on in Hollywood is your own hype. This movie is what happens when the director does that.