The Village is one of the most eagerly awaited films of 2004, but hype can truly destroy a decent film, especially when marketed deceptively. This is M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller, but suspense is not the name of the game and that may lose many, many viewers.
This film revolves around the people of a small village in rural Pennsylvania, where the children have grown up in isolation away from the burdens of the outside world. Of course, the main reason they have been disconnected from the towns beyond is that there are monsters in the woods that surround the village, and no one dares enter those woods. Nevertheless, they are all quite happy - that is, until red marks show up on their doors one day, signifying a growing threat. When one of their townspeople is fatally injured, however, they have to face their fears and consider going into the outside world for help. Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adrien Brody, William Hurt and Signourey Weaver star.
The movie has everything going for it - a great, creepy setting, a superb cast and a director that is known to create the best of psychological and supernatural thrillers. The marketing campaign has been scary and stirred up lots of hype... There's just one catch - The Village is a drama.
Okay, so there are a few creepy parts, but The Village is not the scary horror movie we expected or wanted it to be. In fact, it is downright insulting that Touchstone Pictures so deceptively had us buying our tickets ahead of time to get into one of the most anticipated pictures of the summer. Had we expected something different my reaction might not be so scathing, but when you create hype for something you better at least attempt to fulfill it.
In all fairness, The Village is a decent movie. It isn't as superbly done as any of Shyamalan's previous films, and in no way could be as good. Nevertheless, Shyamalan's careful camerawork is skillful, and the plot is very interesting. Still, there are plenty of interesting stories that are poorly executed - this is one of them.
In Shyamalan's other works, his stories naturally came together, not without flashbacks but with a feeling of acknowledged cohesion. His previous works were creepy or even scary (with exception to Unbreakable, which isn't a horror movie), but they were because of careful precision. The Village feels shoddy and unorganized, as if Shyamalan filmed a bunch of scenes and then decided what kind of tricks to do with the footage he had before him. The movie becomes especially cluttered near the end as he relies too heavily on voiceovers and flashbacks to explain things, but at the sake of both pace and audience acceptance. After one of his major twists is revealed, the movie loses much of its edge, and to regain that edge he throws in a rather pathetic gimmick to entertain the audience that slowly is becoming more and more bored.
The Village does not move at a fast pace, and as in all of Shyamalan's films, many of the scenes play host to characters who are rather quiet. The audience can accept this because we all know that he is working up toward something more complicated; however, in The Village, the big twist is sort of disappointing and, for some, very predictable. I think the time has come for Shyamalan to do a movie without a twist ending, and for him to notify us of it ahead of time. Currently, we expect a twist ending and his endings are becoming more and more forced, as he tries to continually write stories that revolve around some weird shock climax. Shyamalan should do a few movies that push his audiences away from this mode of thinking, and then, when the time is right, he can lay another Sixth Sense on us.
The Village does have good acting, especially from Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of director Ron Howard. She is pretty and strong, and works well in her role. Phoenix is also very effective, although we don't get to see him much in the second half. Hurt is good and Weaver is wasted, as she is given very little screen time without much substance. Adrien Brody is also very good, but I would have liked to have seen more of his character and a little more explanation into his actions.
The Village is easily Shyamalan's worst film, as it hardly thrilling, not even remotely scary and, to some, quite boring. Overall, it is a decent movie, but not the movie that any of us was expecting and thus is not very effective. Its final twist is big but not ultimately fulfilling; Shyamalan will have to do something really special the next time around to regain our confidence.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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