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Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has become one of our pre-eminent spinners of contemporary movie fables with a succession of multi-layered hit films featuring his distinctive blend of suspense, drama, humor and heartfelt emotion. Since his debut with the groundbreaking ghost story The Sixth Sense, he has gone on to forge a series of gripping modern films that explore provocative human mysteries, attaining critical accolades and phenomenal box-office success along the way.

Now, with THE HAPPENING, Shyamalan goes back to his roots with a stripped down, gut-wrenchingly intense thriller – a tale of disaster, harrowing escape, and of nature in deadly conflict with humanity. At its core, the story is perhaps his most immediate and direct, as it follows just three people – a man, a woman and a child – on the road, running from a nameless, faceless catastrophe. But it is also a story that boldly puts forth a haunting vision of an epic apocalypse triggered not directly by man but by the natural world; that asks what happens when the primal human instinct for preservation goes awry; and that explores how love and tenderness might help keep us alive in the darkest and most threatening of times.

The idea for THE HAPPENING came to Shyamalan as he drove across the New Jersey countryside, watching a lush, green world whirr 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?' In that moment, the entire structure of the story for THE HAPPENING popped into my head instantly and the characters suddenly became perfectly clear. It was a great feeling because movies are always so much more accessible when the predominating thing is the structure.” Even from those earliest moments of inspiration, before a single word was on the page, Shyamalan also knew that he wanted a very specific style for this film. "I knew that I wanted to make a movie that would be electric, clean and dynamic,” he says.

The initial draft of Shyamalan's screenplay was already quite intense, but when Twentieth Century Fox came on board, the studio suggested that Shyamalan might push the story even further, that he could approach it as an R-rated movie and take it to extremes of tension and terror where he'd not yet ventured. Shyamalan was surprised, but excited by the freedom this suggestion brought to let his imagination run even wilder. "When I thought about it, I thought this is really the way to make this story, because it is already a story all about taboos. I mean if you had tried to make THE EXORCIST as a PG-13 movie, it would be hard to imagine,” he muses.

Sums up producer Barry Mendel: "The big idea of the film was always to push the Night genre and Fox just said to us, there are no boundaries, take the gloves off, go for it, and we did.” Adds producer Sam Mercer: "THE HAPPENING takes many of the supernatural and emotional elements traditional to Night's movies to a new level. And this story begs a compelling bigger question – have we gone too far as humans?”

Shyamalan envisioned creating a contemporary twist on the Cold War paranoia thrillers of the 1950s and 60s – movies that entertained and raised the anxiety meter with a spine-tingling sense of imminent doom and yet, beneath their roiling surfaces, subtly questioned the sanity of modern society's direction. From the vengeful crows of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds to the atomic-created Godzilla and the aggressive, plant-like pods of Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, many of these classic tales of suspense played like horror movies, yet also left audiences reeling with the sense of a brave new world in which the earth might go on but the human species might not make it.

Shyamalan knew that, as with a

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