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Non-Review Review: The Village

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing there’s a twist in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. In fact, the only shocking twist in a Shyamalan film would be if there was no twist. I have to admit that even I was a little surprised when I guessed the twist about twenty minutes into this film. And I was sadly disappointed that there really wasn’t anything else on screen to hold my interest.

Village people...

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a film to be something more than its twist. A really good twist – an exceptional one – doesn’t just shake every assumption you made about the movie; it genuinely makes you want to go back and watch it again to see the pieces fall into place. A genuinely impressive twist – and I can think of several off the top of my head, so I don’t think I’m being unreasonable – doesn’t invalidate the two hours you spent watching a film, but actually allows you to see it again in another light. It reveals that the film is something more than you expected it to be.

A bad twist, on the other hand, renders the movie something less than what you expected it to be. It not only invalidates what came before, it makes your investment in it pointless. And sometimes, to boot, it’s just a stupid twist. The Village features a stupid twist. I won’t spoil it for you (you’ve probably either seen it already or figured it out), but it actually physically defies logic. There are any number of items which make no logical sense when you think about them and numerous holes in the plan, but it also undermines various character motivations. The twist reveals that certain events which seemed sad but unavoidable earlier on become studies in wanton and unnecessary cruelty.

More than that, the movie pretty much is the twist. So, if you’re like me and you figured out the ending nearly as soon as you sat in the cinema, you’re left with nothing to really interest you. The characters are one-dimensional at best and the writing is just… painful. Maybe it was the magic of Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense which leant the film its humanity, but I can’t figure out how the author of that screenplay is behind this movie. The romantic dialogue (“I love you as the day is long!”) makes George Lucas’ attempts to write a love story into Star Wars: Attack of the Clones sound like Shakespeare. Characters say things like, “capital idea” without a hint of irony and utter convoluted semi-sentences like “sometimes we do what we know we shouldn’t do because we know others think we should do them”. Even I, master of the convoluted sentence, consider that a crime against the English language. Maybe Shyamalan seeks to demonstrate to the viewer how backwards and stunted the community is, but it is just painful to watch.

Joaquin is wearing that hood because he doesn't want you to know he was in this movie...

The talented cast – seriously, William Hurt, Cherry Jones, Jayne Atkinson, Sigourney Weaver, Jesse Eisenberg, Adrian Brody, Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer and Brendan Gleeson had nothing better to do that this? – wrestle with Shyamalan’s awkward prose, which leaves most of them sounding like teenagers roped into performing Romeo and Juliet at the school assembly. It’s a shame, because there is a lot of talent there (particularly Bryce Dallas Howard, who might have been a bigger star had she chosen her films more wisely). Similarly, Howard Shore’s haunting violin score is magical, even if it’s set to one of the most shallow political commentaries I have ever seen.

The village is, from the outset, clearly a metaphor for American isolationism – a criticism of the far right. They use all the standard catchphrases – “a predator of some type” is stalking the village, so “keep careful watch of the little ones” – even as they cut themselves off from the outside world. They teach their children to fear the nameless monsters that live in the woods – “those we don’t speak of” – and refuse any communicate with other communities, even for trading.

To be absolutely honest, the metaphor is arguably a little outdated. By the time the film was made, critics of America were more than likely not taking shots at its “isolationism”, with most discussing centring around the country’s over-involvement with foreign affairs. The way that Shyamalan addresses his theme is also far too blunt. You get the sense that Shyamalan is not just hitting you over the head with his hatred of groups like “the tea party movement” so much as he is bludgeoning you to death with them. The only difference between this and The Lady in the Water is that here he isn’t beating you over the head with the idea that he’s a misunderstood genius who will inspire a future messiah through his work.

The Village is a disappointment in so many ways. It’s just a hallow and empty little film that is ultimately just stupid and pointless. All the ideas here are shrewd and smart – I think that you could hand the one-line pitch to an up-and-coming young writer or director and end up with movie magic – but the execution is just terrible. Shyamalan clearly wants to comment on a culture that convinces us that there are monsters living in the shadows just outside our doorstep, but he isn’t quite sure how to do so.

2 Responses

  1. I loathe this movie. What an unfrightening, predictable, and painfully boring movie.

    M. Night should have stopped at Unbreakable.

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