The end is nigh

Super-secretive director M. Night Shyamalan is coughing up few specifics about his new thriller, The Happening, due out in cinemas this Thursday.

The trailer, though, gives you a hint of the doom to come. In a matter of minutes, strange, chilling deaths occur in major American cities. Is it some kind of terrorist attack, an experimental virus gone wrong, a diabolical toxic weapon?

And how is it being transmitted? Given that the film was originally titled The Green Effect, one might guess The Happening is a kind of "green" horror movie - speculation Shyamalan does not deny.

"The villain is, to some extent, unseen," says a coy Shyamalan, the man who brought us such memorable scary movies as The Sixth Sense and Signs. The idea, he says, came to him as he drove across the New Jersey countryside, watching a lush, green world whizz by through the windshield.

"I was on my way to New York," he recalls, "it was a beautiful day and the trees were hanging over the highway, and I suddenly thought to myself, 'What if nature one day turned on us?'."

Mark Wahlberg stars as Elliot Moore, a science teacher struggling to escape the invisible deadly force by heading for Pennsylvania farmlands with his wife (Zooey Deschanel) and colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) and his 8-year-old daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez).

The action plays out in just 36 hours, rocketing from the first hints of disaster to a singular climax, something of a change for the director renowned for tricky, twist endings. "Sometimes a story is just a story.

"In the case of The Happening, it is really about a family trying to survive and learning to love one another and that's what most drew me to this. My goal was always to make a fast-paced movie where you come out paranoid about things happening in the world you never really considered before." Shyamalan is taking a risk. He took a beating for The Village (2004) and, in particular, for his last film, Lady in the Water (2006).

It was savaged by critics and audiences alike and sank like a rock at the box office. Wahlberg realises that people either love Shyamalan or hate him, and that it's the same with each of his films. "Night is one of the few guys I see dealing with failure, for whatever reason, in a way that can only make him better," he says. "He was never panicked [on this film], he was just more focused.

He just wanted to do something different, do something more edgy. Just the characters and relationships that are developing amidst this gigantic thing that's unfolding ... it's very, very well done. I was thoroughly impressed." The Happening is in cinemas this Thursday.

- Herald on Sunday

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