dir: M. Night Shyamalan
[img_assist|nid=974|title=This Village's people are much scarier than the ones in this movie|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=350|height=296]
Be careful what you wish for, because someone might just strap you to
a chair one day and jam it down your throat using a splintered chunk
of wood. In my last cinematic masterpiece of a review I made a big
issue about poorly directed hyper-efficient Hollywood movies where a
lack of vision results in editors constructing their projects as if
they're animation on a sequence of post-it notes that you have to
flick with your finger for it to make sense. Two second cuts and
jittery camera work abounding. At the complete opposite end of the
spectrum exist the films of M. Night Shyamalan, whose measured pacing,
and long, well-constructed shots you would presume exist as an
antidote to the current madness of strobe light cinema. But does that
necessarily mean they are better films? Or do you keep getting woken
up by your own snoring?
After bitching about it so much and so often, I will admit that for me
it was like icy cold water after a trek through the desert. There were
a bunch of scenes where I was just marvelling 'Goddamn, this scene has
been going for more than a minute! They actually had to remember a
whole bunch of dialogue! How splendiferous.' Of course if you're
noticing stuff like that, it means you've been taken 'out' of the film
by your observations, which is not an ideal state of affairs. The
curse I face the more films I watch and the more I learn about
film-making from reading dry-as-fuck cinema studies texts and
listening to interviews with directors and cinematographers is that it
becomes harder and harder for me to be just be taken in and seduced by
a story. Instead much of the time I'm coping with drammaturgical
dyads, diagetic and non-diagetic sound, Freudian trajectories and all
sorts of other pretentious crap that sometimes gets in the way of just
You can still switch it off some of the time, which means that
watching movies remains bearable. In relation to this film, let's just
say I had a fair bit of free time to think about that kind of stuff
during its duration.
Shyamalan, a populist director I have no shame in admiring, makes
well-made films. I have, to varying degrees very much enjoyed the
films he's made thus far, and The Village is no exception. I enjoyed
it to the extent that it had an interesting premise, a pastoral /
gothic setting, excellent cinematography and a lush James Newton
Howard score. It also has not one but two beautiful redheads for me to
watch, an all-star cast and an amusing twist which isn't just a cheap
last-minute token event. I mean it was pretty fucking obvious from
reel 1, but still, it was clever enough for me, and gives the premise
a deeper significance than most twists warrant.
None of these components should represent sufficient justification for
you to jump up from your computers, push old people and small children
brutally out of the way and swear bloody vengeance upon anyone that
gets between you and a theatre playing The Village right now, for
fuck's sake. Because in truth I doubt anyone is going to like this
film that much.
The film opens up in a rural setting, where some early villager types
(post frontier times) seem to be living in an ideal Pennsylvanian
pastoral paradise. Their Amish-like town of Covington is surrounded by
woods, and we are told in no short order that not only are the
residents afraid of crossing the boundary between the village and the
forest, but that the woods themselves are inhabited by creatures
mysterious and dangerous. The creatures are referred to as Those We Do
Not Speak Of, which is both awfully Cthulhu-esque and ironic,
considering the fact that they are the main topic of conversation for
the film's duration.
The colour red is seen as being dangerous, and thus is shunned,
shunned I say. They call it the 'bad colour'. Speaking of calling
stuff 'stuff', they all speak in a torturous, archaic manner, which I
don't mind but it does make understanding what they're talking about
difficult sometimes. Then when you work out what they're saying, you
realise it's something pretty mundane, like
'Yes, keep churning that butter, my good fellow, oh quite heartily'.
Not only is there a pretty impressive cast, there's certainly a lot of
the fuckers as well. William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson,
Joaquin Phoenix, Judy Greer, Adrien Brody and a bunch of other people.
With so many people you'd be expecting acting fireworks. Something to
warrant the presence of so much talent in the one place at the one
time. Ultimately it's the equivalent of getting a bunch of the best
footie players you can get together to play a few rounds of mini golf.
There's not enough for them to do for the film's duration, and
Shyamalan knows it, too.
I feel a bit uncomfortable using sports-related metaphors, they never
quite feel right coming out of my fingers. Regardless of that fact, it
feels like that watching the film. Still it doesn't detract from what
is essentially an interesting mish-mash of ideas. There is mythic
story telling at the level of a children's fable or bedtime story.
There are the virtually G rated scares and thriller elements Shyamalan
likes to use for fear of offending, I dunno, his grandmother or
something. There's a deeper story having to do with the motivations
and the worldview of the Elders that rule the town with a gentle but
nonetheless iron fist, some sociological / cultural bollocks thrown in
for good measure. And mostly it feels like it works.
Being the kind of film that this is, obviously I can't say too much
because that would impede the wonderment, the child-like joy big
lumbering palookas such as yourselves could experience if you get to
watch this treasure unspoiled. Otherwise, it'd be like telling people
that the 'chick' in The Crying Game is a man.
I meant to say, man, what a good movie (apologies to Mayor 'Diamond'
Joe Quimby from The Simpsons for that one).
The twist in Sixth Sense, whether you personally liked it or not,
affected how one viewed certain characters and occasions in the movie.
It didn't fundamentally change the story itself, which was about the
child Cole coming to terms with having a very small penis. No, I mean
coming to terms with his ability to see The Dead doing all their
Deathly stuff. Thus when the twist comes, whether you liked it or not,
the story remains essentially the same.
Unbreakable had a tacked on twist ending which changed nothing and was
just there because Shyamalan believes his own press kits which style
him as the heir to Hitchcock's mantle, and thus each of his movies
need their own twist, goddamnit.
The twist in Signs was, as far as I can work out, the fact that highly
intelligent and evolved aliens can travel countless light years in
craft far more advanced than anything we've got here, yet haven't
heard of raincoats and can't figure out how to operate doorknobs on
pantry doors. Either that or the twist involved Mel Gibson playing a
religious type person who loses his faith, and then regains it again.
Considering that Gibson is likely to be crowned the next Pope for his
work on reigniting that capacity for shame and self-flagellation that
had been dwindling in Catholics lo all these years, it's ironic, at
least to me.
The ultimate issue at stake in The Village, that which changes how
everything is viewed is less gimmicky and more predictable that much
of what Shyamalan's done in the past. However, and this is a big,
hefty, however, the story in the mean time getting there just isn't as
compelling as much of the other stuff he's done before.
I think the reason for it is twofold: the premise is a bit lame, and
he doesn't know what to do with or how to effectively utilise a large
cast. He just didn't know what to do with them, simple as that. All
his other films essentially had a focus on a core of three or four
actors, in a narrow context. Without that focus, Shyamalan flounders.
His style of filmmaking is not amenable to, say, a Robert Altman-like
ensemble (thankfully, since many of Altman's films make me want to
punch him in his aged nuts) or something like any of Fellini's
anarchic extravaganzas. I guess neither is he trying to do that. But
at the very least with a bunch of people he needs to find a middle
ground where he can take his own premise with deadly seriousness, but
also make it interesting for the audience by giving actors something
more to do that stand around looking mortified.
As the film begins the village has suffered a death, that of a small
child. One of the townsfolk, a laconic man called Lucius (Joaquin
Phoenix) asks permission from the Elders that he be allowed to cross
the forbidden border between their village and the woods in order to
travel to the dreaded Towns to get medicines for the other villagers.
He is told, as is everyone else that when the village was started an
agreement was made between the Elders and the monsters in the woods,
that the creatures would not come into the village as long as no-one
from the village ever entered the woods. Never ever.
As one of the Elders, Edward Walker (William Hurt) spends much of his
time explaining in torturous dialogue why Lucius must never ever enter
the forest, because the bad bogeymen will want everyone's blood.
Edward's blind daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) is in love with
Lucius, and gets to prattle on endlessly about whatever the hell pops
into her gorgeous head.
I thought Ivy, who comes to play a crucial role in proceedings, was
ultra-sweet and adorable, and sold the role perfectly, making an
otherwise unbelievable scenario acceptable. And I have to say even
those people who have the ability to suspend disbelief to the extent
that they can believe a politician's campaign speech are going to find
the last third of the film hard to swallow. I have a profound and much
lamented weakness for attractive redheads, so perhaps I'm being too
easy on her performance. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I
thought she was the bee's knees (i.e. highly doable), at least until I
found out that she is the progeny of Ron 'Richie Cunningham' Howard,
director of such masterpieces as Willow, Splash and Ransom. Funny how
something like that can put a kink in your tyre, so to speak.
The film's better scenes involve relatively minor occasions; a
midnight conversation between Lucius and Ivy on a porch, with fog
roiling in the background; the sepia toned happiness of a wedding
feast; aerial shots of long tables of food, the shock of red in
otherwise muted scenes; little yellow riding hoods scurrying about the
place, and the monsters themselves, which look like something out of
The Dark Crystal.
At film's end I imagine there are going to be a lot of pissed off
people. People who might be muttering 'what a load of bollocks' under
their breathe as they leave the cinema. They might feel a bit gypped.
A bit peeved. Well, it sure as hell won't be my fault if people go
Don't blame me is what I'm ultimately saying. I enjoyed the film but
then that isn't a decent benchmark for most people. People are so
fussy these days. Hard to please, and I suspect that Shyamalan pleased
far less people with this little fable than he has ever before. It is
still an interesting film, and it's got redheads in it, which is
probably all a film needs to be considered decent in my book. But
don't go sacrificing goats in Shyamalan's honour just yet. He's still
got a long way to go.
6 prancing, overacting Oscar winners playing annoying
village idiots out of 10
'Lucius Hunt: Be cautious, you are holding the bad color.
Ivy Walker: This color attracts Those We Don't Speak Of. We must bury
it.' – the further wit and wisdom of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village.