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New Shyamalan Thriller 'The Happening' Taps Into Contemporary Fears


Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has a new film thriller that taps into contemporary fears. Mark Wahlberg and Zoey Deschanel co-star in this tense drama of a mysterious event that could lead to the end of human life. Alan Silverman has a look at The Happening.

High school science teacher Elliot Moore (played by Mark Wahlberg) believes in rational causes for every phenomenon; but those beliefs are tested ...and shaken ...when something begins to drive almost everyone around him to self-destructive acts.

Is it some form of bioterrorism? Or could it be something in nature? Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has explored inexplicable mysteries in his previous films including The Sixth Sense and Signs. Shyamalan says The Happening is directly connected to today's headlines.

"I think everybody in our generation is starting to worry about these types of things right now: certainly in an election year, thinking about the future," Shyamalan says. " It is interesting with all these 'end of the world' movies. There's an anxiety that's in the air and it mimics the ones from the 1950's with the same kind of anxieties about our future. Where are we headed? Are we going in the right direction? Is it too late to change course?

"The movie is really about where we are now in the world: the paranoia that we feel toward each other, to strangers, to other countries everything," he explains. "There's the sense that we don't trust anybody. Really, the struggle of the movie was (the question) 'is this an appropriate way to be?' ...the struggle of whether to question it or not."

Wahlberg says his character is torn between his belief in science and his faith in a greater power.

"I think Night (Shyamalan) cast me because of my strong faith. Somebody asked me why Elliot survived and I think it's because he has so much faith and hope," he says.

"It can be interpreted as a philosophical message as much as a spiritual message and that faith can be spiritual or also a philosophy," adds Zoey Deschanel, who plays a psychologist and the wife of Wahlberg's character.

"I think the movie raises questions and any time you're raising questions you're inspiring people to think about things," she says. "I think that's really good because I definitely came out of seeing the film feeling like I wanted to question my own beliefs."

The cast also includes John Leguizamo. In a departure from his usual comic roles, he plays a math teacher who is also looking for some sense of order to explain the chaos.

"That's what I love about the screenplay," Leguizamo says. "There was a message that is missing in so many big Hollywood flicks that don't have a point of view ...don't have some visceral thing to say about the world and state of human beings and the human condition to make us feel something. I love that the movie had a point of view and wasn't afraid of that."

Without giving away too much of the plot, The Happening raises the issue of environmental damage. In this story, the inconvenient truth may be fatal to humankind as nature rallies its forces against the polluters. Writer-director Shyamalan says it is possible to find a spiritual element in that theme as well.

"It is interesting that in all of our religions how little is really said about how we should feel toward nature," he says. " It's an interesting thing to get the hierarchy to where it is: we are just one of many living creatures on the planet."

Like all of Shyamalan's films, much of The Happening takes place in Eastern Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, where the Indian-born filmmaker was raised and still makes his home.