I will mark spoilers as appropriate so if you haven't seen the film you
can read on in safety......
Pennsylvania, 1897. A small village lives in constant fear of 'those we
do not speak off', creatures that dwell in the woods that completely
surround the settlement. When the village suddenly finds itself in need
of desperate medical supplies someone must traverse the creature
inhabited woods to 'the towns' and return with the medicine.
M. Night Shyamalan is a man dogged by his past glories. Although I
didn't care much for The Sixth Sense it was a huge hit, the combination
of creepy mood and sweet twist sent amazing word of mouth about which
resulted in huge box office. Unbreakable failed at the box office, but
for my money presents Shyamalan's finest film to date. His grasp on the
'real world' side of comic books was nigh on perfect and he has twice
now managed to coax a good performance from Bruce Willis. For that alone
he is worthy of a place in movie history.
Signs was a terrific movie, dogged slightly by it's less then coherent
finale. I don't mind the odd small plot hole in a film, as long as I can
maintain a certain 'suspension of belief'. However to *SPOILER FOR
SIGNS* have the invading aliens weakness as water, a substance that
covers 2/3 of this planet is just stupid *SPOILER ENDS FOR SIGNS*. The
tension that Shyamalan creates in the first hour and half of Signs is
amazing, staying with the family in the house. Only fleeting glances of
the invaders. It's hair bristling work and conformation that when he
applies himself he can do work to rival the finest masters of suspense.
So, where does The Village come in the cannon of Shyamalan (notice how I
do not mention his first film or the one he made with Rosie O'Donnell)?
Well, to be brutally fair it comes right smack at the bottom.
I'm going to go over what works first of all and then keep the spoiler
type stuff for the end.
The basic premise of The Village is very good and offers up lots of
possibilities. Even although there was a Star Trek: The Next Generation
episode that had almost the same plot, albeit set in the future and on a
distant planet, Shyamalan has cooked up a dynamite premise that seems
tailor made for his brand of suspense and tensions building.
And it is. For the first hour and a half (am I seeing a pattern emerging
here?) the film builds up a nice amount of suspense. The creatures
attack the village and it is truly one of the finest scenes I have seen
in movies this year. Much like Signs, we only catch fleeting glances of
the creatures. When we do catch a glance our reaction is, 'What the f***
was that?'. The scene culminates in a beautiful slow motion shot that is
Shyamalan has also seemingly learned a new trick for this film. It seems
for the vast majority of the film that a scene never concludes properly.
Rather, by seeing the reactions and hearing the discussions of people in
the next scene we are asked to figure out how the last scene ended. To
begin with this really quite annoyed me, but as the film moved on I
started to appreciate it more.
There is a turning point in the film at around the halfway mark. I'm not
going to detail it, but the event is the catalyst for the final half. It
is handled magnificently and I really didn't see it coming. It's both
amazingly filmed by Shyamalan and acted by Adrien Brody and Joaquin
Phoenix. Which brings me to the final thing that The Village has going
for it, the standard of acting.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the main antagonist, a quiet young man who is
strong willed and headstrong. I like Phoenix a lot and this is another
feather in his cap. Adrien Brody has a tough role to play. Literally it
is the village idiot. His Noah is a simple man, a child trapped in a
mans body. These kind of roles can be hard to play and they can easily
flit to the wrong side of pastiche *cough* Sean Penn/ I Am Sam *cough*.
Brody pretty much nails it though, hardly uttering a coherent sentence
for the whole film.
The village elders are made up of an impressive line up of actors and
actresses. Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt and Brendan Gleeson fill out
these roles wonderfully, especially Gleeson, this guy is a joy to watch
in any film.
The revelation for me in the film though is Bryce Dallas Howard,
daughter of Simpson's regular Ron Howard. Up till now she has mostly had
bit parts in her fathers films, but she really steps up to the plate in
this film. Almost to the point where she steals every scene she is in.
She has a natural beauty and a waft of innocence that is perfect for the
role of Hurt's blind daughter. This young lady has a huge future ahead
of her if this performance is anything to go by.
So, time to dig into the films many issues. From here on it gets pretty
spoiler heavy, if you haven't seen the film yet, I would advise skipping
to my rating and not reading any further.......
For all the good work done by Shyamalan in the first half building up
tensions and suspense he totally destroys it by his big 'reveal'. The
creatures aren't real, they are a device created by the elders to keep
the village residents from venturing out into the outside world. They
want to protect the innocence and goodness of their world by keeping the
residents inside the town.
A town that is not in 1897. That's right the time is 2004, the elders
all had bad experiences in their life's (which would explain why so many
of them are widowers) and decided to get one of their rich relatives to
buy a nature reserve so they could recreate a late 19th century town and
live there in peace and innocence.
Which brings me to my first annoyance. Fair enough, recreate an olde
time village. But, why would you also decide to start speaking like your
from that era? The children that are to grow up there will not know any
better. Sounds like a lot of hassle for no good reason to me.
Which brings me nicely onto the films dialogue. It' so stilted and
convoluted it's a wonder that Shyamalan managed to drag so many
wonderful performances from the cast. Honestly, the script is littered
with so much redundant dialogue. Shyamalan used to be known for writing
good dialogue, but as his films move on his visual prowess has improved,
but his scripts have suffered. Maybe he should consider filming someone
else's script to see how that works out.
So, we've had the big twist that the monsters are a fraud. Which
immediately eliminates all suspense and peril from the blind girls
journey to the towns. Would it not have been prudent from a film-making
standpoint to hold back on the twist until the girl had made it through
the woods? That way we would actually be left wondering if she was going
to be attacked or not?
Ah, but Shyamalan has that covered. During the blind girls danger free
travels she, shock horror, falls into a hole! Oh my God, the terror!
Then, one of the creatures appears behind her. Wait a minute? Aren't
they fake. Oh, maybe William Hurt was lulling us into a false sense of
security. No wait, actually, that monster looks crap, it's probably
Adrien Brody wearing the suit. Oh, it is, fair enough, YAWN!
The fun doesn't end there. After Ivy finally gets passed all those holes
and trick or treater's she climbs a fence and is met by one of the
nature preserve guards. Now for a quick pop quiz.
Q: You are a nature preserve guard who sees an oddly dressed girl
climbing a fence in the middle of nowhere. She speaks like she just
stepped out of 1890, is filthy and is apparently blind. Do you?
A - Throw her in the back of your jeep and call the nearest loony bin?
B - Take her note and steal medical supplies from under your bosses
I would bet that most people would go for option A. Not his guy, he
steals medicine from right under the directors (in another shockingly
acted cameo) nose without even asking her why she lives in the woods.
Yes, all that stuff is terrible, but you know what annoyed me most about
the film? It made me sad, the ending left me on a complete downer. These
village elders are lying to their kids each and every day, denying them
the outside world because they feel that it's not safe for them. It's
like some freakin' Amish version of 1984. George Orwell would have a
The Village is a textbook case of missed opportunity. Great idea,
amazing cast and a good tension and visual work by Shyamalan are
completely and utterly destroyed in the films second half by a
collection of incredibly ill judged twists and reveals. I'm sure some
people will dig further and discuss some deep subtext from the film, but
for my money it's not worth it. Shyamalan shot himself in the foot with
that god-awful second half.
4/10 for The Village.
Betty Brant - "Your wife's on the phone, she lost the cheque book"
J. Jonah Jameson - "Thanks for the good news!"
Spider-Man 2, (2004)