Home > Reviews > THE HAPPENING – James Newton Howard

THE HAPPENING – James Newton Howard

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s unfortunate that the former wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan’s career seems to be on a downward spiral. The Happening is probably his worst film yet – a bizarre, disconnected ‘thriller’ starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo and Betty Buckley about the onset and effects of a mysterious air-borne virus which seems to make people want to commit suicide. Much was made of the fact that The Happening was Shyamalan’s first R-r ated film, when in reality the film was little more than a series of peculiar sequences in which people try to outrun the wind while talking in an oddly unrealistic manner, and occasionally suffering gruesome deaths.

Reuniting with Shyamalan for the sixth time is composer James Newton Howard, whose score is an equally low-key, slow-burning effort. Much of the score is built around understated string phrases, often for Maya Beiser’s solo cello, augmented by unsettling harps and pizzicato effects which give the music a vaguely threatening, intangibly sinister air. After the conclusion of the rhythmic, menacing “Central Park”, Howard introduces a chilly piano motif during “We Lost Contact” which features regularly throughout the rest of the score.

However, much of the middle section of the album is made up of barely-changing string, piano and synth tones, continuing the omnipresent sense of danger and adding greatly to the overall unsettling effect of the film itself, but making for a slightly dull listening experience. There are a couple of cues which crank up the creepiness, notably “Princeton” with its scratchy violin writing, “Shotgun” with its explosion of orchestral dissonance, “You Eyin’ My Lemon Drink?” with its disquieting woodwinds, and the rampaging “Mrs. Jones”, but on the whole it’s all too low-key and restrained to be really effective.

There is a cathartic release in “Be With You”, an achingly beautiful piece with a more vibrant cello performance. The album concludes with a specially arranged “End Title Suite”, which restates and expands upon the score’s thematic material, finishing the score on a high note. However, despite its highlights, The Happening is still a score where – ironically – too little happens for it to be truly considered one of the year’s best.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Main Titles (2:18)
  • Evacuating Philadelphia (2:21)
  • Vice Principal (1:56)
  • Central Park (2:58)
  • We Lost Contact (0:59)
  • You Can’t Just Leave Us Here (1:43)
  • Rittenhouse Square (1:59)
  • Five Miles Back (1:13)
  • Princeton (3:06)
  • Jess Comforts Elliot (2:31)
  • My Firearm Is My Friend (2:59)
  • Abandoned House (1:32)
  • Shotgun (4:27)
  • You Eyin’ My Lemon Drink? (4:28)
  • Mrs. Jones (1:44)
  • Voices (1:36)
  • Be With You (3:41)
  • End Title Suite (8:36)

Running Time: 50 minutes 07 seconds

Varèse Sarabande VSD-6901 (2010)

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