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It Takes ‘The Village’ to Disappoint an Audience

 
 
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It Takes ‘The Village’ to Disappoint an Audience

 
by Jeremy Mathews

“The Village”
Touchstone Pictures
Written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Juaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Judy Greer, Frank Collison, Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Pitt
Rated PG-13

(out of four)

 
     

The twist ending in “The Village” is both painfully obvious and undeniably impossible. It’s also stupid and forced. While the premise could potentially create an interesting social commentary, director M. Night Shyamalan loses track of any such ambitions by making a film more like a boring period melodrama than a highly suspenseful thriller.

In his latest spooky suspense ride for which the ending can’t be revealed—in this case because it would spoil the surprise lack of focus or ideas—a pioneer village surrounded by dark woods lives in fear. The creatures, aka “Those We Don’t Speak Of” if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, that live in the woods have a pact with the villagers elders: As long as the humans don’t walk in the woods for the creatures to find them and eat them, the creatures won’t come into the town and eat them. Red, “the forbidden color,” isn’t allowed either. The color is so forbidden that even the happy, dainty young women sweeping the porch must shudder and run into the field to bury a blooming flower. Yellow is “the safe color,” and the watchmen wear yellow cloaks, hang yellow flags on the torches on the town’s boarder and paint yellow marks randomly on whichever torch posts they feel like painting. The creatures wear red cloaks over their bony fingers, I guess to protect them from yellow.

The six town elders, who are in their 50s or 60s, oversee their children. One of them has just lost a young child, and cries by the small coffin before a large town feast that is made all the more somber when the woods generate some creepy noises.

This is one depressing town. While Shyamalan’s last film, “Signs,” featured some nice comedy involving an unknowing writer’s instructions for avoiding aliens, this one only has a few attempts at humor while it marches through a dearth of dark mopiness.

The film’s drama seems to centers around a few different characters, as we wait for one of them to take hold of the film. Lucius (Juaquin Phoenix), whose mother Alice (Sigourney Weaver) is on the board of elders, is a stoic and brave young man who is willing to go through the woods to the “towns” outside and get medicines to make the villagers healthy. Of course, his mom and the other elders don’t take kindly to this. William Hurt as Edward is the educational authority of the town, who runs the school and regrets the recent deaths and what not that have brought down the town’s spirit. His oldest daughter has the hots for Lucius, but finds difficulty courting him because he doesn’t say anything. His younger, blind daughter, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), however, becomes quite the love interest.

Ivy works with her father at the school, where she has a special bond with the children and Noah. Adrien Brody has the thankless role of the generic mentally disabled character who laughs and plays with the forbidden colors when everyone else is afraid of the creatures. An actor of Brody’s abilities deserves more to work with than one-dimensional stereotypes.

The great problem with the character dynamics is that no one has a chance to respond to the twist that Shyamalan values more than the people in his story. After the revelation, the film shows very little of the character who has a hint of the discovery. The reactions should be the most interesting moments, and we don’t get to hear from any of the most intriguing characters before the credits start to role. Howard has enormous screen charisma, and Phoenix creates an interesting character who hides his charisma, but it’s all for nothing.

Other wasted actors include Michael Pitt, as a yellow—and not just because of his cloak—guardsman who whines a lot, and Weaver in a throwaway bit of sexual tension.

Shyamalan’s previous films like “Signs” and “The Sixth Sense” have recalled the days of suspense over special effects, and here he tries to create an impending feeling of creepiness over life in the village. Unfortunately, the life isn’t at all interesting. The film sinks in hackneyed discussions about love and cryptic, familiar arguments between the elders regarding the “pledges” they made, and other such nonsense.

At one point, one character gives another character important information, and the scene cuts away before we find out what it is. Then, five minutes or so later, before anything of particular note happens, Shyamalan cuts back to the rest of the scene. This does nothing dramatically or artistically for the film, and appears to be motivated entirely by manipulation. Furthermore, the scene after it creates more annoyance than suspense because the flashback undermines it.

The film’s real theme is about the culture of fear, I think, but it has no real substance. The tone won’t commit to hope or sinister pessimism. The subtext could have been explored much better in a straightforward story. “The Village” is more about surprising the audience than offering them something to think about.

[Side note to the director for the writing of his next film: If you want someone to find something under the floorboards, don’t establish a different storage location earlier in the film.]

jeremy@red-mag.com

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