The Happening - Screenplay Review  


M. Night Shyamalan's new thriller The Happening will hit US-theaters Friday 13th. Here's my review of his screenplay dated January 2007. Please also note the update on the bottom of this post. Thanks.

Final thought after reading The Happening: this would make a great novel. A film? Not so much. A thriller without thrills. Talk about unfilmable danger (b/c it looks like Shyamalan wants to keep the threat real), a reactive protagonist who can't do anything other than think (unfilmable), flee, and observe, an underdeveloped romance and some great ideas that drown in piles of dead bodies. A little girl that mirrors the antagonist - nice touch.

Science teacher Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) loves his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and won't accept that the relationship has hit rock bottom. Alma has made up her mind. She takes her wedding band off, she's going to leave him. Then disaster hits. Large numbers of people kill themselves for no apparent reason.

As always in disaster-movies, the couple will get back together, right? We know this just like we know the ending of a romcom. What's interesting is the 90 minutes in between argument and kiss. Shyamalan doesn't care what I'm interested in. People need to talk and trust each other - problem solved.

Elliot and Alma flee the city together with their friend Julian (John Leguizamo) and his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez). Soon Julian leaves, he wants to search for his wife.

We learn that it's a neuro-toxin that causes the suicides and about 30 minutes into the film we know who spreads it around the globe. There's no way to stop it, only a chance to hide. Elliot collects more clues (observe, think, react) and they keep on running from danger. [Btw: If you think about ways to kill yourself look no further. Here's 50 ways to off yourself.]

It's an interesting topic Shyamalan picked and I love the story-idea. It's clever. It would make a great novel. One could add characters, a backstory, develop the Alma/Elliot relationship, get more into Elliot's head and perhaps even Alma's, and the many suicides might end up having more of an impact than they do in the script and probably will have on the screen. One thing I particularly like involves a ring. That could get more time in the book as well.

A protagonist who can't do anything and who saves himself and his family by thinking isn't much to look at. My only hope is that the movie will be much different from the script (and the trailer).

Meanwhile I've seen a preview and I'm impressed. Though essentially the same story, it's been taken apart and re-assembled in a different manner and some of the things I hated in the script have been re-written. What I liked has been emphasized. See my detailed review, coming up Thursday. It's fascinating to see what a rewrite and editing can do.

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