M Night Shyamalan - What on earth's happening?

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Critics haven't been allowed to review it; the director's avoiding the press. Andrew Eaton tries to unravel the mystery of M Night Shyamalan's new film, The Happening

WHEN Hollywood studios decide not to screen a new movie to critics, and unexpectedly cancel a press junket with its director, it tends to mean one thing – the film is terrible, and the public must be kept from discovering this until after the poor suckers have already bought tickets.

Is this what's happening with The Happening, the new film from M Night Shyamalan, the man who brought us The Sixth Sense and Signs? Of course not, the film's PR team say. They simply want to "preserve the mystery". If critics were allowed to write about the film before it came out, they'd spoil the surprise.

The trailers for The Happening are certainly mysterious. For some inexplicable reason, people are keeling over and dying, in vast numbers. Something is "happening", we keep being told. Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are on the run from the mysterious killing, er, happening, and end up in a house in the countryside, where something is trying to get in. But what on earth is it?

We have some clues. The script of The Happening was originally called The Green Effect, and was apparently about nature taking revenge against people for treating the planet so badly. But no studio wanted it – perhaps memories of Shyamalan's preposterous, critically panned 2006 fairy tale movie, Lady in the Water, were still painful in their minds. So Shyamalan rewrote the script, retitled the film, and found a backer in 20th Century Fox for a film he now describes as a cross between The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But what didn't Hollywood like? What did he change? See how mysterious this all is? In the name of "puncturing the mystery", here are some theories as to what happens in The Happening, based on clues in the trailers and elsewhere. Given that this is a M Night Shyamalan film, there is probably an unexpected twist ("Ah, that guy was dead all along!" "Ohhh, that guy is a super-villain!" and so on). We have taken this into account …

&#149 The Happening is released on 13 June. Trailers can be viewed at www.thehappeningmovie.com


In one of the trailers, Mark Wahlberg, a teacher, is talking to his class about the fact that vast numbers of honey bees have disappeared, a clever nod to something actually happening in the real world. Intriguing! Could it be that the same thing that has happened to the bees is now happening to people? Or could it be that it's all the bees' fault?! Hence the comparison to The Birds. The bees haven't disappeared at all! They've suddenly started flying into people's ears and turning their brains to honey! Hence the scene where Mark Wahlberg is in a field and shouts: "Run!" He's being chased by lots and lots of bees!


The trailers also include footage of clouds moving very fast. Could this be a symbolic visual effect to denote that nature has run amok? Or is it the clouds that are attacking people? There are forces in nature that are beyond our understanding, Mark Wahlberg warns in the trailer. Did all the pollution we have pumped into the sky have a sudden, unexpected chemical reaction in the clouds, causing those clouds to attack us, really fast? Hence the sky scene where Mark Wahlberg is in a field and shouts: "Run!" He's being chased by a cloud!


In Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, alien plants landed on Earth. The pods of these plants then killed people in the night and copied their bodies to create almost exact alien duplicates. Is this what's happened to the bees? Did the flowers kill them all, and now they're after us? Are the flowers fighting back for all those times when we pulled them from the ground, plonked them in vases and watched them slowly die? Have they been planning this attack for years? Are the trees in on it too? Of course, that's it! When Mark Wahlberg shouts "Run!", he's being chased by a forest!


We know that M Night Shyamalan is fond of twists. Perhaps he invented the whole story about him writing a script called The Green Effect then changing the title to The Happening as a red herring. Perhaps we are just meant to think this is an environmentally themed movie. We know Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel's characters are an estranged couple. Is Mark so desperate to win Zooey back that he pretends there's a national crisis, just so he can persuade her to come out to his farmhouse so they can patch things up? In a surprise twist, it turns out that there is a national crisis, but Zooey doesn't believe him! The Happening is, in fact, a hilarious caper comedy.


The Happening actually makes no sense whatsoever, like Lost. People start dying for no reason, nobody ever finds out why, Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel wander around the countryside for a while, where the forest makes mysterious noises, a polar bear turns up, and they find a hatch which, they eventually discover, contains a very old computer with a number ticking down to zero. But this turns out to be a minor plot detail. At the end we discover it was all a dream, or something. It's, y'know, postmodern.