It's been nearly two years since M. Night Shyamalan's offbeat ''bedtime story'' Lady in the Water tanked at the box office and the ugly details of his falling-out with Disney were publicized in the book The Man Who Heard Voices and yet the director of such hits as The Sixth Sense and Signs sounds positively cheerful about his latest project, The Happening. ''This has probably been the most fun I've had working on a movie,'' Shyamalan says. ''The process of making and selling it has all been very nurturing and wonderful.'' How's that for a twist?
The supersecretive director will (no surprise here) cough up very few specifics about his new thriller, calling it an ''environmental nightmare'' with paranoid echoes of The Birds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Mark Wahlberg stars as a high school science teacher struggling to escape an invisible deadly force while trying to work out his rocky relationship with his wife (Zooey Deschanel). The film's trailer suggests the mysterious menace may be an airborne toxin, and 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,'' he says coyly. ''That's a very scary thing that can permeate the entire movie even when you walk out of the theater.'' In order to boost the fear factor even further, Shyamalan was encouraged by Fox to make Happening his first R-rated movie. ''I totally got where they were coming from in terms of not pulling punches,'' he says. ''It was an easy yes.''
For his part, Wahlberg says he had quite the difficult time shaking the movie from his thoughts after seeing a rough cut for the first time. ''Night is one sick man,'' he says. ''I'm in 90 percent of the movie and I was scared to death. There were times I had to look away from the screen.'' That's exactly the reaction Shyamalan is hoping to achieve: ''It's fun to show and not show, show and not show it keeps the audience off-kilter.'' (June 13)