Friday, July 30, 2004

Movie Review: The Village

United States, 2004
U.S. Release Date: 7/30/04
Running Time: 1:48
Rated: PG-13 (Violence)
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Judy Greer, Alexandra Kyle

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producers: Sam Mercer, Scott Rudin, M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Music: James Newton Howard
Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Posted by Hello
After the surprising suspense debut of The Sixth Sense, the mediocre and slightly breakable Unbreakable, and then the superlative Signs, any fan of Shyamalan’s movies has come to expect an-anywhere-from decent to superb motion picture—never a disappointing cheap cheat of a film. The Village is, without a doubt, Shyamalan’s least effective film; it is the work of an egotistical everything (actor, writer, producer, director) that will even dishearten all of the Shyamalan purists out there. He has created high-quality pictures in the past, but this gimmick of a film is just a farce.

It is the late 19th century, in a small secluded village totally surrounded by trees. This village inhabits many townsmen including Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), a daring young man who desires to test the boundaries laid before him and who has strong feelings for a sweet blind girl named Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard). Lucius’s mother (Sigourney Weaver) and the town leader (William Hurt) can sense Lucius’s fearless attitude, and, in fear of Lucius’s life, they both, along with the rest of the elders, try to convince him not to venture into the woods—for what lives in the woods are “Those We Do Not Speak Of,” meat-eating, spiky, scary creatures. (Of course, by giving them this name and talking about “Those We Do Not Speak Of” repeatedly, the townspeople are always speaking of them—creating quite a contradiction.) These woodland bogeymen are attracted to “the bad color” (red), so by hiding “the bad color” from them and wearing “the safe color” (yellow), the humans will be safe and the beasts will stay away. However, if the creatures’ woods are breached by a human foot, then their treaty with the townsmen is nullified, and once Lucius steps into their deep dark forest, all goes awry in the village/The Village.

Considering the setting takes place in the late 1800’s, the townspeople’s clothes accurately represent the times, as do their Old English tongues. With his first period piece, Shyamalan does well setting the Jeffersonian/Anti-Hamiltonian setting, but the dialogue comes off as more awkward than articulate. From its opening line of dialogue, “What mandible of a spectacle has captured your attention so splendidly?” you can easily be annoyed by the inane cheesiness behind their words.

After seeing the trailers for this film, one can expect yet another utterly suspenseful picture that will surely scare you half to death. However, in all actuality, there is only mild suspense and only two or three “boo” moments. Other than that, you are spending most of the second-half of the picture, not cuddled up in the fetal position from Shyamalan’s frightening beings, but rather wanting to throw something at the screen. The previews as well as M. Night’s name lure you into the theater, but by the midpoint of the picture, you feel like a fish caught in a net, unable to escape. By mid-movie the paranoia sets in (and that's not from the film’s suspense). Already feeling ripped-off from your initial $8 entry fee, you reach for your back pocket to check your tri-fold, making sure the theater didn’t somehow abscond with the remainder of your wallet’s contents as well. After paying to see this shoddy sham, you will certainly feel like the village idiot.

M. Night’s plot twists seem brilliant on paper, but the way they are unveiled to the audience, allows them to come across as despicable and makes everyone feel ripped-off. The main turn in the plot can best be described in Roger Ebert's words as "a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream."

Despite taking the silly route and allowing his picture to lose credibility, Shyamalan still maintains his composure with his use of first-class sound (although, James Newton Howard’s score is nowhere near that of Signs), his unique and somehow suspenseful camera angles, and his casting selections.

The Village’s mixed bag of names and faces add exactly that, just names and faces. The only performances worth mentioning are from Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter) and Adrien Brody. Howard shows emotion with ease and was able to add some sympathy to the storyline, while Brody’s manic role of Noah adds another great character to his resume, alongside his Oscar-winning role in The Pianist. Phoenix, Weaver, Hunt, etc., all do absolutely nothing to stand out.

In general, this is not a standout feature from M. Night. In fact, I think he was influenced a little by the also initialed-name of R. L. Stine. This picture has the feel of one of R.L.’s child-oriented, meekly scary Goosebumps books, and at times it has the look of one of those tacky FOX Kids TV Goosebumps adaptations.

Hopefully this Hitchcock wannabe can be forgiven for this near atrocity, and can revert back to the likes of The Sixth Sense and Signs. Even with his skilled technical approach and his underlying themes of: love is always worth the risk and crime and violence have no borders, he still falls short in comparison to his prior works. In comparison to the other summer blockbusters, if you want to get cheap scares for an expensive ticket price and want to feel cheated on your way out, then The Village is the film for you.

In all honesty, this entire review should be posted in red text to denote the overall bad and disappointing nature of the film. Heed the warning bell, and avoid this substandard Shyamalan charade. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004