The Village

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

William Hurt
Sigourney Weaver
Bryce Dallas Howard
Joaquin Phoenix
Adrien Brody

directed by
M Night Shyamalan
Pity filmmaker M Night Shyamalan. It seems that he is a victim of the dreaded “odd/even” curse, one that the Star Trek film series endured.

This being M. Night Shyamalan that we are talking about, there is a twist to this curse – his odd numbered films, The Sixth Sense and Signs were good. The even numbered ones, Unbreakable and now The Village are the duds.

Without giving too much away, the film tells the tale of an isolated village during a time period that appears to be circa late 19th Century (the exact time period is never established). The tiny hamlet, at first glance, seems picture perfect, its close-knit community lead by the father-like figure Edward Walker (William Hurt). It’s an orderly, peaceful, happy little town that is free of trouble within its borders.

But outside the village, in the surrounding woods, there are mysterious creatures who reside that keep the town folk on their toes. The unknown evil force is so intimidating that none dare venture beyond the town borders and into uncharted areas (a couple of people have, but never returned).

Naturally, there is someone who does wish to leave the village. That would be a quiet and curious young man by the name of Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix). But before Lucius can undertake his journey, an incident occurs that forces someone else to take the journey instead, a young blind woman by the name of Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), Edward’s daughter and the person of Lucius’ secret affections.

The Sixth Sense and Signs worked so well because they had well-structured stories and characters we got to know and care about. They also had intelligent sub-texts that were about something else besides seeing dead people or invading, water-fearing aliens. Sixth Sense dealt with letting go of the past, while Signs was about losing, questioning and rediscovering one’s faith. Even Unbreakable had some of these elements for the first hour before it turned into The Adventures Of Security Man And Kid A.

The Village, unfortunately, has practically none of the above; it’s main problems stemming from the screenplay written by Shyamalan. The first act is a shapeless mess that never recovers. The characters, with the exception of Ivy, are flat and completely forgettable.

This is part one of a two-part insult to the ensemble of fine actors assembled here, which include Sigourney Weaver as Lucius’ mother, Brendan Gleeson as the village minister and Adrien Brody as, you know there had to be one, the Village Idiot. The dialogue they are given to deliver is pretentious to say the least (actor’s insult part two) and the so-called “twist” in the third act is one that is so obvious from the start that only those not paying attention will be surprised by it.

Above all else though, The Village doesn’t have much of a point to it. Is it a tale of conquering a fear of strangers? Is it about parents letting go of their children to let them explore the outside world on their own? Or is it an allegory of the War On Terrorism and the aura of fear that the current administration is manipulating to keep Americans in line? I doubt it is any of them, although Michael Moore and Oliver Stone might subscribe to the last theory. I think The Village is more about a promising filmmaker who is afraid to venture out of the financial and critical safe haven he’s lived in with his last three films to try something new.

There are a couple of things to champion, Roger Deakins’ handsome cinematography being one of them. His work gives the film a slight and desperately need bit of spooky atmosphere. And Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of director Ron Howard, is the only cast member that manages to breathe life into her character and transcend the silliness of it all. It may be because she is the only one to have a serious amount of screen time, but Howard makes the most of what she is given to work with.

M Night Shyamalan is a talented writer and director, when he has some good material to work with. Hopefully, The Village will just be a mis-step instead of a harbinger of what is to come. If he really wants to surprise his audience with his next film, he should try these shockers: work from a screenplay written by someone else, try a different genre and leave the Twilight Zone alone for an extended period of time.

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