Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Village (2004): A Review

A film by M Night Shyamalan

The villagers were warned to stay out of the forest. So long as the villagers stayed out of the forest, "Those We Must Not Speak Of" will leave the village alone. It is an uneasy truce within the village. Anything colored red is immediately destroyed or buried because it might attract "them". The villagers live with a kind of Puritan morality, strict, but heartfelt. A date on a tombstone sets the year as 1897. They seem to be completely isolated from the rest of the world hint at how bad life was in "the towns". The elders have taught their children that the rest of the world is a nasty place, and that they are striving to live a moral life. And stay out of the woods.

A young man, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks the permission of the elders to pass through the woods to "the towns" so he can get medicines for the townspeople, but the elders say that the danger of "Those We Must Not Speak Of" is too great, and it should not be risked. Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a blind woman, but is very bold and speaks her mind, and appears to be interested in Lucius.

There would not be much of a movie if nothing actually happened (though there is a feeling of stasis through much of the movie), so in some way the "truce" will break. It has to. The question has been raised as to who or what these creatures are in the woods, and what danger they may pose to the village. Shyamalan is a master at raising the level of tension through what we don't see. The boogie man is only truly scary when we don't see him but can "feel" him coming. So it is with "The Village".

This being a Shyamalan movie, we know that there is going to be a twist. From the first frame of the movie, most viewers are going to analyze everything on screen to figure out what is going on and what is wrong with what we are seeing. After "The Sixth Sense" we are conditioned to know that color is very important and with this movie stressing color (the "safe" and "bad" colors", we are looking for any sort of clue. This is initially the strength of the picture, but is also its greatest failing. If Shyamalan is going to give such a promising setup, and builds the tension so that expectations are raised, he ought to deliver with the reveal. The reveal does not even need to be perfect or amazingly shocking, but it does have to be good. It's not.

Throughout the movie the characters are all speaking in a very stilted, formal tone and style and it grates. Worse, it is boring. Shyamalan is able to build tension about the woods and "Those We Must Not Speak Of", but by the ending the film is nothing but a disappointment. "The Village" does not Deliver. Certainly not on the first viewing, and there is nothing to warrant a second or third viewing. Watching "The Village" and piecing it together, i was left with the thought: "That's it? That's what the movie is about?"

There is a bright spot. Bryce Dallas Howard in her first starring role. She was fantastic and i would love to see her in something else, anything else. Everything else was drab and dreary: the acting, the dialogue, the ending, Oscar winning actor Adrien Brody in an inexplicable role. Still, Bryce Dallas Howard was a shining star in a movie best left unseen.

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