(Hollywoodchicago) – Trying to understand the thought process of writer and director M. Night Shyamalan is akin to analyzing Jell-O. What keeps it wiggling and what binds it together?

The Happening,” which is his latest creepy film, is a modern cautionary tale ripped from the collective sensibilities of life after Sept. 11, 2001 and the status of human beings in their interaction with today’s environment.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Elliot Moore: a sensitive high school science teacher in Philadelphia. When an incident occurs in New York City, the whole northeastern part of the United States is put on alert.

Another teacher, Julian (John Leguizamo), manages to get train tickets for himself and his daughter to a more rural area. He invites Elliot and his emotionally distant wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), to travel with them in hopes of staying clear of the impending trouble.

The train is forced to stop because of communication problems and a paranoia of “every man for himself” creeps into the evacuees. Groups split up and start off by car – and then by foot – hoping to hide deeply into rural Pennsylvania.

After an early winning streak of films (including “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”), Shyamalan’s output since has been mostly perplexing to audiences and critics. He’s a genre unto himself with story characteristics that are manufactured uniquely through deliberate perspective.

This has resulted in hit-or-miss propositions. He continues that distinct stamp in “The Happening” by creating a situation of paranoia that’s very familiar in these times.

The detail of human beings finding it necessary to try and formulate answers from mysterious circumstances is well represented especially through Wahlberg’s “by the book” science teacher.

The “event” also has to do with the environment around us. The question asked in the film is as follows: As humans are the most influential species on the planet, how will this dominance affect the finite resources of the planet? What force of nature will rise up against this dominance?

This particular circumstance also had an Alfred Hitchcock vibe. It used the unseen force as a pursuer much like his film “The Birds”. The master of suspense is even represented in the soundtrack, which would be at home in any of his films.

Suspending disbelief is important in the experience of “The Happening”. There are many unanswered improbabilities in the plot and some misconstrued elements that produced unintentional laughs. It’s best to go with the flow and realize that – in M. Night Shyamalan’s point of view – everything is out to get us.

“The Happening” opened everywhere on June 13, 2008.

Staff Writer

© 2008 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com