Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


THE VILLAGE (2004). Director: M. Night Shyamalan.

This tedious film should have been entitled Hoaxes, for the massive hoax that alleged thriller director Shyamalan keeps playing on his audiences. The Sixth Sense was a fairly credible, if derivative, horror film, and Unbreakable, despite its obvious flaws, was at least unusual. Signs was a big shaggy dog story with some tense moments and a really dumb ending. But The Village takes an interesting premise and gets too clever – or rather not clever enough – for its own good. Never has Shyamalan appeared more over-rated than with this picture.

SPOILER ALERT: We're led to believe that this is a period film and that the action takes place in an early American village. The people in the village are afraid to ever leave because they must walk through a wooded area where monsters (”those we don't speak of”) supposedly dwell. Halfway through the film we learn that the monsters were sort of cooked up just to keep people from leaving. At the end of the film – although to most viewers this will come as no surprise – we learn that the story actually takes place in the 21st century (big whoop – hasn't Shyamalan ever heard of the Amish, for instance?) Apparently a group of people who lost loved ones to big city crime were so disheartened that they decided to “drop out” and go back into the “past” and a simpler era. [The fact that there is not a single Black, Hispanic, or Asian person in the village makes us wonder if this is a satire on white flight or merely inherently racist?] At the end there's some dialogue which tells us that the government prevents planes from flying overhead – but why? None of the original “settlers” seem that rich or influential. If some people want to drop out, fine, but why would the government aid or give a damn about them? Even more peculiar is the fact that the character played by William Hurt lets his – get this – blind daughter go off into the woods to get medicine, never giving the poor girl even a hint of what she's going to find when she gets to the other side. The one person chosen to go through the woods is blind? Supposedly compassionate, Hurt's character must be the worst father in the world. There are some eerie, well-directed, if derivative, scenes in the movie, and many others that are simply awkward. Some of the acting is quite stilted, but heroine Bryce Dallas Howard (the blind Ivy) makes a good impression. She and Joaquin Phoenix have a splendid scene wherein they confess their mutual love on a porch. William Hurt has one big moment succumbing to passion and anger in which he is quite good, but otherwise his acting is unimpressive. Sigourney Weaver is miscast but she, too, has her moments. Adrian Brody is excellent as the mentally deficient Noah. A lot of people found this film to be charming and romantic – it does play like a fairy tale – but there just isn't that much to it. Shyamalan had better come up with something better than bad feature-length Twilight Zone episodes if he wants to keep getting financing from the studios. Even if he had simply made a real period piece with settlers fighting off “those we don't speak of,” it would have made a better film than this.

Verdict: The movie is being hyped as being “like the best of Hitchcock.” Don't you believe it! *1/2.

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