171 – The Village

I am now officially off the M. Night Shyamalan bandwagon. Nope, that’s it, I’m through giving him the benefit of the doubt. See, I really loved The Sixth Sense. Thought it was fantastic. Creepy, too. I liked Unbreakable, too. Sure, it was flawed, and I could see how some people might not like it, but I appreciated with Shyamalan was doing, and I liked the two lead performances. But then Signs came. And I thought Signs was hideously dreadful, lacking a sense of humor when it was needed and being way too flippant when the situation called for levity. I felt Signs was merely a product of an overactive ego and an inactive imagination. But I figured that since even the best filmmakers have their vanity movies, I’d forgive Shyamalan his Signs and looked forward to his next movie. Well, The Village isn’t much better than Signs, and that’s a real shame.

The setting is 1897 in a remote village in the Pennsylvania woods. It’s a very quiet, unpreposessing village, complete with village elders, politeness among folk, and a one-room school house. (These folks look and act Amish, although that’s not specified.)

But this idyllic, placid hamlet has a secret. See, it’s bordered on all sides by the forest, and within the forest are these unspeakable creatures, Those Who Shall Not Be Named. Oddly enough, you would think such an appelation would prevent people from openly discussing said creatures, but I lost count how many times they were mentioned. Anyway, the creatures, we’re told, have a deal with the villagers – no villager will cross the perimeter into the forest, and no creature will enter the village. The villagers have yellow flags around their perimeter and a giant tower with a bell at the top, so if and when a creature comes a-calling, the bell can be rung and people can get to safety. The village elders, led by Edward Walker (William Hurt, sincere as always), forbid anyone from crossing the perimeter; the villagers are also informed that the creatures hate the color red (“the bad color,” as it’s called in hushed whispers!).

Weird things have been afoot, though. Small animals have been killed in the village, skinned and left to be discovered by open-mouthed villagers. And when a creature is indeed spotted entering the perimeter, the next morning there are slashes of red paint on the doors of people’s homes. What could this mean? Who hath breached the perimeter?

One man, Lucius Hunt (played with open-mouth ennui by Joaquin Phoenix), asks the elders for permission to go to a neighboring village to get medicine. You see, the village is hampered by a distinc lack of medical supplies, and when its citizens are quite ill, they have no choice but to watch them die. They’d prefer this, apparently, to getting medical supplies.

Now, any time the phrase “only one man” pops up in a synopsis of a movie, you know you need to relax your curiosity and just let things happen. “Oh, here we go,” you think. “Good ol’ Commodus is going to be the One Man who can save the villagers from the creatures – and themselves!”

There are a few twists to the movie, so I’ll halt the synopsis here. The trouble is the twists are likely to affect you in one of two ways: Either you’ll say, “I saw THAT coming,” or you’ll merely shrug your shoulders and wonder if the exit door to the theater will open to a part of the parking lot that’s a real hike to your car. Personally, I was affected in both ways.

The movie’s simply not well written. There’s suspense, but often it’s clouded by contrivances in the plot. Shyamalan wants us to fear the creatures as much as the villagers do, but he doesn’t succeed. We’re supposed to feel empathy for the villagers, but all I could feel was pity and scorn.

The pacing is pretty tight, which is nice, since it’s essential that a suspense movie be well paced. But the camera angles often looked amateurish and/or auteurish; either Shyamalan didn’t know how to shoot a particular scene or he decided to be cute and make it seem as if the scene had some sort of Deep Meaning. Now, it’s true there’s a moral to the story here (something about You Stay on Your Side, I’ll Stay on Mine), but the tone achieved by the direction didn’t really convey that. A huge debit, too, is the soundtrack – does Shyamalan not know how to use one effectively? In most scenes, the soundtrack was blaring at such a high volume that the actors could barely be heard. What’s the point of that, exactly?

Finally, the acting. No one is spectacularly miscast (although I wonder if Adrien Brody, who won an Oscar for goodness sake, is kicking himself for agreeing to play the village idiot), but no one really shines, either. How could they, with a plot so thin you could read fine print through it? Most of the actors are… well, useless. They don’t do much with what little they have to work with and are essentially wasted, especially Sigourney Weaver. Hurt is quietly effective, but it’s a role he can play in his sleep by this point. Newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard is moderately annoying, which ain’t good
when you have a very prominent role.

The Village is trite and cloying, a mishmash of “twists” that alternately make no sense and make too much sense and can be foretold well in advance. M. Night Shyamalan has taken a pretty solid, intriguing premise and riddled it with illogic and disdain.

The Village: *1/2

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One Response to “171 – The Village”

  1. 2008 Movies to Wait for « Frothy Ruminations Says:

    […] Shyamalan in recent years, and I don’t think I’ve done so unfairly. I swore that after The Village, I wouldn’t watch any more of his dreck. I skipped The Lady in the Water, but I’m […]

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