M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (***)

Posted on August 1st, 2004 in Movie Reviews by mynagirl

It’s hard for me to know how I’d like this movie, or any of Shyamalan’s movies, if I hadn’t first seen The Sixth Sense. You’ll have to bear with me as I preface my comments for The Village with a few about Sixth Sense and the rest of Shyamalan’s oeuvre. I was so irritated with that movie right up until the ending that brought the whole story together that I then became an instant fan of this director, willing to give him so much leeway in any story, to let him lead me where he wanted. I gave Unbreakable that same kind of “okay, where are you taking me today” wide-eyed wonder, and I ended up liking that one, too, even though it is oddly paced and weird in its own way. I liked Signs, too. I know a lot of people objected to a member of an advanced, space-traveling alien race being able to be trapped in a kitchen pantry, but a modern army paratrooper would be similarly trapped if caught without any of his conventional weapons. See? Sixth Sense was so brilliant I’ve just been willing to go along with whatever else has come out from the director since. And I know that’s so many people’s big beef with Shyamalan, that his first movie was brilliant, and that either (a) the other movies don’t live up to the first shining promise of Sixth Sense, or (b) Shyamalan’s got the movie going public hoodwinked with his emperor-wears-no-clothes Hollywood cachet. And it is hard to judge what I’d think of his other movies if it hadn’t been for his first one, and The Village is no exception.

It’s also hard to discuss this movie without discussing plot spoilers, and I’m going to break a normal rule here and talk a little bit about plot. So:

*************PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD****************

The movie, like all Shyamalan films, makes repeated use of color. Unlike previous works, however, it’s more than just a thematic element. In The Village, the residents of an early 1800’s hamlet lead a semi-idyllic life of self-contained sustenance. They farm, school and raise children, and marry one another within a few square mile area surrounded by woods. The villagers and their houses are swathed in drab colors; anything bright red is hidden or forbidden. At nighttime, the men of the village stand guard at the perimeter of the village land near the woods in ochre yellow cloaks, warding off an unseen (and, in the beginning of the movie, very nebulous) menace. Village residents are not allowed into the woods, and residents of the woods are clearly not friendly toward the villagers. Red is forbidden because it attracts the menace from the woods

As the movie progresses, the central conflict becomes a need for one of the characters to travel through the forboding woods to “the towns” on the other side, something that the elders took an oath they would never do when they founded the village. The acting is quite good here; Bryce Dallas Howard is wonderful as the youngish woman entrusted with this task, and Joaquin Phoenix is also excellent opposite her. As for the rest of the cast, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver are also quite solid. I know some reviewers took exception to Oscar-winner Adrien Brody ‘deigning’ to play a mentally challenged man in this film, but I thought he was great and that the film was worth of his performance. There’s a hell of an emotional scene between him and Bryce Dallas Howard that was very difficult for me to watch.

I really did like The Village, but it had one flaw for me. The main disappointment for me was that there wasn’t anything supernatural or extraterrestrial in this film (Engineerboy made me use the word extraterrestrial here — he pointed out aliens don’t qualify as ‘supernatural’ in the movie Signs, although if you really remember the plotline Mel Gibson’s character sort of had spooky premonitions from his dead wife, so I think that qualifies, but whatever). The movie was still good, but I was looking for that extra Shyamalan weirdness, and all my little frissons of expectation (“oh man, I can’t wait to see what those turn out to be”) as the plot progressed didn’t pay off at the end. I still really loved the film, and I think the director is still a genius, but that one element was missing for me.

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