by Mel Valentin
"The Village," the latest film from presumptive "auteur" M. Night Shyamalan (who wrote, produced, and directed), will probably be remembered as the weakest film in his career, at least so far (given his age, Shyamalan will have additional opportunities to disappoint his audience). After the commercial success of "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs" ("Unbreakable" fell short of commercial expectations), it’s become clear that M. Night Shyamalan is suffering from the George Lucas Syndrome: with commercial success has come near-complete creative control over his film projects. That creative control, however, comes at a price: a lack of self-criticism or willingness to accept the criticism of his collaborators.The Village is set in a pre-industrial village surrounded on all sides by a forest. The forest contains mythical, supernatural creatures. The village has no contact with the outside world. Clearly, the villagers have separated themselves from the equivalent of their modern world (which they refer to as the “towns”). A truce exists between the villagers and the forest creatures, with neither side encroaching on the other’s territory. The truce is a precarious one, due to the conditions attached to the truce: the villagers cannot cross a “magic” boundary separating the village from the forest; the color red is banned, including naturally occurring vegetables or fruits; and, the villagers must make sacrificial offerings to the forest creatures.
"Ridiculous plot twist derails M. Night Shyamalan's latest."
The village appears to be organized along the lines of a loose collective or commune, with the village elders making policy decisions for the village. Edward Walker (William Hurt, soporific) leads the elders, with prominent place given to the opinions of another elder, Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver, singularly wasted in a superficial, underwritten role). The initial threat to their peaceful way of life comes not from the forest creatures, but from Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix, in a taciturn and withdrawn performance). Lucius, like other young men his age, longs for escape and adventure beyond the stifling confines of the bucolic village. Lucius is also motivated by the premature death of one of the children, which could have been avoided with more advanced "medicines" from the towns.
Instead, Lucius’ repeated pleas to the Elders are gently, if firmly, rejected. His desire to leave, his desire to test the forest boundaries, however, appears to stir the unseen forest creatures into action. Shymalan introduces a poorly conceived romantic triangle, between Lucius, Ivy (Bryce Howard), and Noah Percy, the village idiot (Adrien Brody, badly miscast and misused), yet another sign of M. Night’s misguided approach to the material. The romance between Ivy and Lucius is probably the highlight of the film, as their awkward, halting interactions leads inexorably to the second-act climax, a plot turn that effectively switches protagonists in mid-story.
As with Shyamalan's other films, there is more than meets the eye in The Village. Like The Sixth Sense, The Village contains a major third-act plot turn or “twist." Unfortunately, Shyamalan's imagination failed him when he needed it most. Shyamalan, impressed with his own cleverness, obviously convinced himself that turning the premise on its head would elicit gasps of delight and surprise in the audience. He has, in short, borrowed one too many times from The Twilight Zone. Given the “slow-burn” build up of the first act, including the initial attacks by the forest creatures, the third-act revelations are deeply disappointing. For no discernible reason, Shyamalan reveals the plot "twist" underlying the narrative via flashback, then moments later attempts to bait-and-switch the audience and cast doubt on the revelation. The “false” premise, once exposed, also doesn’t bear close scrutiny. There are too many plot holes and inconsistencies that make the premise unconvincing for most audiences.
Additional flaws with The Village include underdeveloped characters, underused actors (e.g., Weaver, Phoenix, Gleeson, et al.), and awkward, portentous, and occasionally pretentious, dialogue. Shyamalan also chooses to reveal hints to the underlying premise, not through the active investigation and discovery by one of the main characters (i.e., Lucius), but through scattered hints (each Elder owns mysterious black box, an interesting idea only partly explored in Shymalan’s script), while switching back and forth from faux nineteenth-century English and a modern vernacular. Shyamalan seems to have been interested in the romantic subplot than the main plotline. Alternatively, Shyamalan might have been more interested in developing his themes of fear, paranoia, authority, and social control, than in telling an engaging, well-structured, well-paced story.If, however, you look beyond the tired, clichéd premise, "The Village" does have one or two reasons to recommend a viewing, including Roger Deakins’ cinematography. Deakins’s cinematography is to be commended for his lighting and camera placement, especially during the dialogue scenes, where, probably at Shyamalan's suggestion, Deakins shoots the actors unconventionally, either in long shot uninterrupted by close-ups or medium shots, or, for example, in silhouette and profile, as in the nighttime scene between Lucius and Ivy where they awkwardly profess their affection for each other. Shyamalan shows some skill in directing the suspense sequences, climaxing in the nighttime village attack by the forest creatures (prominently featured in the television ad campaign). Shymalan should also be commended for the production design and the color palette, warm, autumnal colors that mesh with the overall mood and atmosphere of the film.
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originally posted: 05/25/05 06:05:01