Wednesday, August 4, 2004
"The Village" takes forever to reach its destination, and when it does, it's difficult to care. Following a trio of superbly crafted thrillers ("The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," and "Signs"), writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has created a shockingly sloppy, dreary film that lacks nearly all of the screenwriting elements that made his previous films so great.
The "village" of the film's title is the (presumably fictional) town of Covington, Penn., circa the late 1890s. The residents of this tiny community, however, never venture outside a designated perimeter for fear of carnivorous wood-dwelling creatures referred to simply as "those we don't speak of." A truce with the creatures has permitted the residents of the village to remain in their valley settlement as long as they stay out of the woods—and avoid displays of the "bad color" red.
The plot stumbles along at a glacial pace, with the first third comprised of little more than a string of stilted, unintentionally humorous dialogue scenes between characters too numerous to be appropriately developed. The appearances of "those we don't speak of" (which are few, far between and disappointingly brief) succeed as moments of ephemeral panic (though the "jump" scenes here are nowhere near as prevalent as they were in "Signs") but never generate true suspense; it is difficult to fear for characters in jeopardy when they have been so broadly defined.
In the film's most significant subplot, sisters Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard) and Kitty Walker (Judy Greer of "Jawbreaker" and television's "Arrested Development") vie for the affections of Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix, in the latest of a series of brooding performances that makes one long for his villainous turn in "Gladiator"). This works a little too well for "The Village," however, proving to be an even more engaging storyline than that of the monsters. Adrien Brody provides comic relief as the mentally handicapped Noah, while Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt turn in appropriately minimalist performances as parents of the Hunt and Walker families, respectively.
The twist ending of "The Village" (read on, it won't be revealed here) is certainly the film's most significant fault, one that would be potent and thought-provoking if it weren't unleashed upon the audience so halfheartedly. It calls every moment of every previous scene into question, much like that of "The Sixth Sense." That film, however, was handled with a level of intimacy that made the ending convincing, even thematically appropriate (especially on subsequent viewings). Here, Shyamalan seems too preoccupied with the cleverness of his climax to have given the rest of the script the same attention, and the conclusion he expects the audience to swallow is outlandish to the point of being insulting.
Still, there are elements of "The Village" to admire. The production design of the film is commendable, even Oscar-worthy, with extremely well-done sets and costumes. Shyamalan has crafted an appropriate atmosphere for the film—bleak, foreboding, and gloomy—despite failing to deliver the appropriate characters and scenarios to occupy that setting. Ultimately, "The Village" is a failure because it's such an empty, poorly conceived experience—but it's a disappointment because it comes from a filmmaker who has proven himself so well before.
It's not as good as the "6th Sense" or "Unbreakable", but better than or on par with "Signs". The problem is everyone's worst fear was that, like "Signs", "The Village" would be all about the shock of/anticipation of the thing and not the thing. "The Village" does too little beyond this, while its strongest examination is on innocence itself, and the characters played by Joaquin Phoenix and Ron Howard's foxy daughter. I enjoyed the characters immersion in their world and scared of the creatures. Because of past comparisions, the audience mantains its distance from viewing the film waiting to be Shamalaned. Is this the twist ? Is this ? So its the past efforts that pulls one out from truely immersing oneself in the film. I for one, suspected the ending in the opening scene, only didnt think it would be the main deal, so how they got there was different than suspected. So I would hardly call it the twist "outlandish" like the review above stated. Its anti-climatic or predictable even, if you suspect it. So the end was wowing by any means. And thats the problem with the film. People dont want a character study, they want and demand to be Shamalaned. Holding their emotional juices for the big bang.