Weird things happen to the villagers of an isolated hamlet.
I hadn’t seen this movie in a decade or so, but I had remembered it rather fondly, but I knew it wasn’t quite as good as “Signs” or “The Sixth Sense”. When I first saw this, I remember thinking that M. Night still had a little creative spark left in him, and that this movie would be one of his more middling entries into his filmography. Going back with a fresh mind, and watching this again, I was given even more hope for a decent film during the opening credits. This film boasts an all-star cast, but it also has Roger Deakins, one of the best cinematographers alive today. And then, as the dialogue began, I realized once more that this was a Shyamalan film, and it would be subject to some terrible dialogue, melodramatic acting, ill-conceived directorial choices, and glaring plot holes that have been thinly and sloppily papered over.
(SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH)
In an isolated village led by Edward Walker (William Hurt, “Dark City”), a group of villagers attempt to go about their daily lives, while sticking to the boundaries set by their elders, so as not to upset the creatures that live there. Among the most prominent members of their community are Walker’s daughters, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard, “Lady in the Water”) and Kitty (Judy Greer, “Ant Man”), August Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson, “In Bruges”), Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver, “Alien”) and her son, Lucius (Joaquin Pheonix, “Gladiator”), and a mentally challenged man named Noah Percy (Adrien Brody, “The Pianist”). When an accident happens, Ivy, who is blind, becomes convinced that the only way to save the man she loves is by going to the nearest town for some sort of supplies. She decides to do this, even if the results might offset the balance between the creatures and the villagers.
So there are some things to like about this movie, more so than “The Happening”, at least. First, cinematography on this movie is pretty great. Roger Deakins knows how to frame a shot and make it look fantastic. There are lots of eerie visuals throughout, and without Deakins’s eye, this could’ve easily been a very boring, flat-looking movie, on top of being melodramatic. Visually, it looks great, and that extends beyond the camerawork too. The costumes, the set pieces, everything looks awesome… until the third act and then things start to fall apart. The soundtrack was good too, and James Newton Howard received an Oscar nomination for that one.
Really, where the bulk of the problems come are in the script. This film, in my opinion, is when Shyamalan starts to loose his focus as a director. He’s known for his twists, and sadly, he seems to think that a twist is the same thing as a story. It’s not. For shocks to have emotional meaning they have to be well set up and come at the turn of a hat; it should be a sudden but inevitable twist. A twist should shock the viewer, but also make sense on a rewatch. “The Sixth Sense” did it well, but that’s his best example of a twist that really worked, he keeps pushing further and further, when really he needed to scale back. It’s not the twists we really care about, it’s the characters, and if we don’t care about the characters, then why should we care about the movie? In “The Village”, there are not one but two Shyamalan-twists. But, in order to explain the final twist, Shyamalan stops the buildup of his movie and has three lengthy freaking scenes of exposition so that he can catch the viewer up with what is happening. In those scenes of exposition, Shyamalan also reveals that there isn’t really anything to be afraid of. Ugh. Why would you build up a movie, and then before the climax, reveal that there’s no danger? It doesn’t make sense, and it makes this movie drag like crazy towards the end.
Another thing is acting. There are some darn good actors in this movie. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know I love William Hurt; his quiet, mumbling performances always seem to elevate any movie he’s in, and this film is no different. Though, at times, I was rolling my eyes during some of the other scenes, Hurt always seemed consistent. I thought Sigourney Weaver did a fine job too, and Brendan Gleeson, though he wasn’t given much to do in this movie, was fine too. The biggest trouble comes with Adrien Brody, who plays the mentally challenged Noah. I know that playing a mentally challenged person can be difficult, that’s why the academy always gravitates towards those roles, but Adrien took it a bit too far in this movie. It comes off as incredibly insensitive, and it makes the film uncomfortable to watch. Joaquin Pheonix was great at Lucius Hunt, though he, too, was given very little to do. Bryce Dallas Howard, our protagonist, was okay. She had some really good scenes, but overall, she still couldn’t make the script more than it was.
(SPOILERS ABOUT PLOT HOLES)
After the second twist is revealed, a million plot holes come up, and none of them are filled before M. Night has time to roll the credits. Plot holes like: How did Bryce Dallas Howard find her way back to the village, when she’s blind and has never been outside the woods? Why would they let a blind person go get supplies anyways? The park ranger said he had snakebite antidote and stuff for scrapes, will that help Joaquin Pheonix’s multiple stab wounds? Bryce has been gone for like three days, is Joaquin even still alive? If Joaquin is alive, does he have brain damage from lack of oxygen? If Joaquin does survive and does recover, will be able to plow the fields and take care of his now soon to be wife (who is blind)? How many people are in on the dressing up like creatures thing? It seems like too many. They say the wildlife preserve was a no-fly zone, so that explains why they never saw any planes… okay, but people still fly over no fly zones sometimes, so that doesn’t make sense. No hunters ever thought to wander back through these woods? No hikers? No campers? How long has this wildlife preserve been around to house entire generations of people? I’m sure you could pick this apart further, but after a while; garbage is still just garbage, isn’t it?
This is pretty much where M. Night starts to go downhill. Sadly, it’s not even as entertaining as “The Happening”, which, in my opinion, wades into the so-bad-it’s-good territory. It’s sad to see a director who so competently directed a thriller like “The Sixth Sense” fall to a level where I like one of his films on a so-bad-it’s-good scale, but hey, it happens. I still have yet to see “After Earth”, and right now, I’m guessing that’ll be his worst, but we’ll see.
This is part of our requested M. Night series, so if you’re a fan of his movies check out our other reviews. If you’ve got a director or topic you’d like us to talk about contact us to let us know!
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