The Village

Saturday, August 11, 2007

M. Night Shyamalan is such a frustrating director. Here’s a man with a few of the skills necessary to be an exceptional filmmaker – he has a good eye, an ability to create mood and he usually comes up with interesting concepts – but he keeps pissing it away on pieces of crap. He just can’t seem to shake off The Sixth Sense – he goes to the well over and over and over again.

But what makes it even worse is Shyamalan’s inflated self-opinion. He really does think he’s making works of art rather than disposable fluff. He really does thinks he’s an auteur rather than a hack. He really does think he’s some sort of magician rather than a con artist. There really is nothing to his films. All he can do is try and attempt to pull the wool over your eyes.

Now I guess someone could look at The Village and say its some sort of comment on modern society – look at the way these people have isolated themselves and tried to revert back to a simpler way of life. Or they could argue that it’s a typical post 9/11 work. Those We Don’t Speak Of (the monsters who surround the woods) could represent a raised fear of outsiders. This is a community that fears it’s under constant threat of attack. But all of this would be to give Shyamalan far too much credit. He simply wants to try and give us a few scares and shout, Robot Chicken-like, ‘What a twist!’

I guess he also wants to pull our heartstrings, but the love story here is laboured and unconvincing. We have a blind girl (Bryce Dallas Howard – who actually is rather good) falling in love with Joaquin Phoenix (who seems to be comatose). But not only do they have little chemistry, but Phoenix is stabbed halfway through the film by a ridiculous retard (played by Adrien Brody), meaning that it’s almost impossible to invest in their relationship.

Having said this, the couple do get one enjoyable moment. There’s a scene early on where Those We Don’t Speak Of attack the village. Ivy (Howard) stands in the doorway, holding out her hand for Lucius (Phoenix). For an agonising amount of time her hand remains empty, and the monster outside is getting closer, but at the last moment Lucius appears and takes her to safety. It’s all shot in slow-motion and it has a poetry to it that the rest of the film sorely lacks. If only Shaymalan could create moments like this more consistently.

But when you think about it the film basically revolves around a resentful half-wit. Here we have a guy who has the hots for Ivy, but because he can’t have her, tries to kill her beau instead. So then Ivy has to scramble through the woods to find medicine for her love. And apart from the crap twist, that’s it. Therefore I think The Village should be retitled When a Retard Loves a Woman. It’s an instruction on not to let horny half-wits try and fall in love with you – the film shows us that the consequences are disastrous.

But such is Shaymalan’s pomposity that he tries to turn the half-wit’s demise into a tragedy. You see, after we’re told that the village is actually set in the here and now and that Those We Don’t Speak Of are really men in suits, the imbecile, seemingly by magic or lacklustre writing, appropriates one of these suits and follows Ivy into the woods. He terrifies her a little bit but the cunning lass leads him into a trap and kills him. In his final shot we see him lying broken on the floor, his face revealed and his body still covered by the costume. Shaymalan obviously wants to show us that he’s become half man half beast – look at how the horn has corrupted this poor imbecile – and asks us to feel pity, but I couldn’t care less. The moron got what he deserved.

However, I must point out that the village idiot is actually present in one the film’s other good scenes. The moment when he stabs Lucius is well filmed. I like the way the camera creeps up on Lucius as his back is turned to the moron. You know something is going to happen and you’re expecting a typical Shaymalan cheap shot. But instead there’s no attempt to make you jump. Simply the next thing you know Lucius has a knife in his belly. And it’s a bit of a surprise, when Lucius falls to the floor, that the idiot continues stabbing him. It’s quite brutal for a PG-13.

But although this is quite well done, everything else is poorly handled. The twist, for instance, comes far too early and lands with a dull thud. Plus, to find out that Those We Don’t Speak Of are men in suits at such an early juncture renders the final third without tension. Of course, Shaymalan tries to suggest that there actually might be real monsters in the woods, but it’s a feeble effort to try and keep our interest.

Then you have Shaymalan turning up himself in an acting role. Just hearing his squeaky, obnoxious voice is enough to bring me out in hives. You can feel the arrogance and the self-importance seeping from every poorly delivered line. When did this guy get it in his head that he can act? He can’t. He makes Roger Moore look like Robert De Niro.

Plus Shaymalan think he’s a talented writer. He’s not. Structurally the film’s a mess and all the dialogue is stilted and juvenile. And somehow he manages to wrest an awful performance from Sigourney Weaver – something I thought was impossible. If only Shaymalan left the writing to others and stopped being so precious he might make a serviceable hack.

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