Worth A Look: 16.98%
Pretty Bad: 17.9%
Total Crap: 38.27%
13 reviews, 246 user ratings
by David Hollands
Throughout The Village, I was shocked beyond belief. M. Night Shyamalan's latest is easily of the worst, most ridiculous films of 2004. Hardly a single frame goes by in which we don't hear atrocious dialogue, see some of the worst directorial decisions since The Ring, and bear witness to a movie made by a filmmaker who's only inspiration here seems to be his own ego.The Village concerns a village (heh) surrounded by a forest. Within are boring people. In the forest around them are creatures. There is an established deal with the creatures whereby no one will venture into the forest and the creatures won't enter the village. This changes when a boring villager discovers skinned chiwawas in a boring fashion (literally! The shot is four people standing perfectly symmetrical, and staring without emotion). Boring people then talk. There's a poor love story. The creatures are then revealed full on, and after, the director attempts to build suspense by hiding them. More boring people talk. There's a stabbing. Someone goes into the forest. More d*mn talking. Obvious twists are revealed...through more boring talk. A creature attacks. Someone talks. Then it's over. I've just saved you your money.
"Watching village idiots for two hours."
The main reason why this fails is that writer, producer, director M. Night Shyamalan seems to have built this film up solely from the twist. Watching this, he obviously started there and worked up very flimsily. This is evidenced by the virtual nothing that happens throughout the film. When something of interest does happen, it's usually horribly forced or terribly obvious. For example, Shyamalan introduces a love story into the film. This could have been interesting, but I was reminded of the worst elements of a Stanley Kubrick film when watching these scenes. The dialogue is constantly cold and un-moving. Things that could have been told to the audience through subtle expressions are explained in detail. There's absolutely zero chemistry between the actors. And Shyamalan still felt this warranted having this subplot shoved in our faces for an hour and a half of screen time.
It isn't just that that irks me, though. Shyamalan, who had impressed me to no end with the superb Signs, has written a terminally stupid film. Whenever a twist needs to be revealed to us, Shyamalan has someone literally popping up on the screen and explaining everything in detail. If that doesn't happen, characters usually re-open secret boxes for no particular reason, and we hear interior monologues of things that we hadn't previously seen or heard. The boxes themselves, containing some pretty important information, are seen basically sitting under every villager's staircase! Right, stick it in the most noticeable place if your one intention is keeping it hidden.
Script elements come out of nowhere constantly. Someone mentions magic rocks (!), and then those are discarded as soon as they are revealed. As one can probably tell, logic is constantly thrown to the wolves. Just wait until you get to the point where a father sends out his blind daughter (!!) to retrieve medicine. What the Hell was this guy on when he made that smart decision? And if this is truly 1897, what in the world are chiwawas doing in this village? An important plot point is hidden in a place in which people are put when they're bad. A lot of people go in there. When the plot point is discovered, ADR dialogue comes out of nowhere informing us what we are watching, even though we've already figured things out and know that it is stupid. To have someone tell us what it is only seems to make it more stupid. Not only that, but these people actually sound surprised that their secret was discovered in one of the worst places to hide anything.
Then, there's the issue of the twist itself. Even if it could have shocked anyone, it is unbelievably poor. Logic errors abound here. For one, it is revealed that the creatures in the woods are actually people dressed up in costumes. Right. Then how the Hell were these people making the rather complicated and obviously electronic growling sounds whenever they showed up? When the sounds come from the depths of the forest, I can accept that; it probably was something electronic. But when wearing the costume in the film, it's pretty hard to carry a synthesizer around with you. Each person inside the costume makes that same sound throughout, even one character at the end who puts it on for the first time.
We also wonder why no one noticed that the village elders where conveniently disappearing whenever a monster showed up...come to think of it, neither did Shyamalan. Whenever the creatures are around, we usually see every elder in the scene as well. That makes no sense, given that they are the ones who dress up as the creatures. So who's doing this? When yet another twist occurs, it is revealed this time that the village is actually located in a nature preserve closed off near a highway! Say that again to yourself out loud, and realise just how that sounds. It comes so out of nowhere that it threatens to rip the celluloid in which it rests completely to shreds. And when we start thinking about how planes never conveniently fly over the village, Shyamalan gives us a quick explanation that the chief elder of the village paid for the airspace (!!!). I'm sorry, but in order to keep a plane from being seen in what is a pretty big d*mn sky, A LOT of air space needs to be bought. Miles and miles of sky. Either the man has over thirty trillion dollars, or this too convenient plot point is trying to be covered over.
Let's take a moment to comment upon Shyamalan's cameo. It is one of the most egotistical I've ever seen. It consists of his face only being shown vaguely in reflection as if he's some kind of important mysterious figure. He's only in the movie to give bad plot information. Yet Shyamalan apparently thinks he's Alfred Hitchcock all of a sudden. After an audience member has sat through a film this bad, and then he or she sees THAT...most, if not all respect for the filmmaker flies out more than a few windows.
There is one little inkling of a thought within the film, involving human nature. It could have been handled brilliantly, but it, like everything else in the movie, is as obvious as can be. The elders created the village because they didn't like the modern world in which they lived; one filled with cruelty and violence. I find it very telling that their attempts to create a peaceful society without the modern weapons of destruction failed simply because of human nature. There's also a slight fear here as well. Basically, no one is allowed to leave the village. No one can go for medicine or supplies if needed, and they don't know that those supplies exist. However, it again feels stupid that the elders wouldn't bother bringing even medicine with them! How can this much stupidity exist among a group of about six. Surely one person must have told the others that this aspect of the plan was a bad idea, and that problems like the main one in the film usually come about because of such stupidity.
In any case, that aspect of the plot is telling, though it is presented as horribly as anything else in the film. Shyamalan sets up a dramatically obvious situation. Characters talk about the town from which they came in the film as something unbearably evil; when we actually leave the village and head into modern times, we see nothing but literal walls and walls of newspaper clippings detailing stabbings, gunshot victims, and even decapitations! This fills every part of every newspaper clipping we see. You know Mr. Director, I got this aspect without having to have the evil of the world overemphasized to such an insulting degree. The clippings are shown right up to the camera lense, making sure it's what we focus on the most during the scenes in which they are featured. To say it approaches bad comic book level goofiness would be like saying water is clear.
There is one thing done well here, and that is the whole concept of the bad colour. The villagers in the film are forbidden to have the colour red in their midst. Throughout the movie, I was genuinely curious why it was that particular colour, and I found out the answer when a character stabs someone, and calls the blood on the knife the bad colour. Thus, the bad colour symbolises the violence inherent in every human being. Too bad this is the only truly clever thing in the film.
****END SPOILER WARNING****
Even if one hasn't seen the film, one probably already knows the big twist. Shyamalan has ruined himself, because at this point, we can usually predict his twists just because we know they're coming. Predicting what this one will be can be done easily by just reading about the plot. The fact that Shyamalan still takes his sweet time getting there is what frustrates me the most. With the audience already clued in well into the film, the sensible thing to do would be to try and make as entertaining a film as possible. But no, Shyamalan must think he's a filmmaking God or something, because he lets his movie unfold in the slowest, most bland way possible. At least fifty f*cking minutes could have been cut from this film, yet Shyamalan obviously thinks that everything he's created is absolute gold. I would be very surprised if deleted scenes showed up on the DVD. One honestly wishes the film would get to the twist faster, because we simply couldn't bear more talking. Most of the scenes are shot in this pretentious, pseudo-important fashion: very little cuts between shots allowing us to focus on the...cough cough...dialogue. We notice this pretentiousness constantly, and it distracts and insults us to no end.
The monsters show up for about two short scenes. They are laughable in every way. After Shyamalan displayed a marvellous sense of control with his monsters in Signs, it truly depresses me that he chose to reveal the monsters here twenty minutes in. Even if it is a fleeting glimpse, it's one that's filled with too much visual information. Plus, the main monster that we see is actually done by computer generated imagery. Not only does it look terrible, but the decision to make the thing CGI makes absolutely no sense when one finds out the twist ending. In any case, when Shyamalan tries to scare the audience by shoving these things into the frame, the attempts fail miserably. A poorly designed Muppet isn't scary. Just idiotic on his part.
This movie is blandly directed to a depressing degree. There are a few good shots here and there, but one can just tell that the director is setting himself on autopilot throughout. Some of the scene executions range from bad (Shyamalan panning nonsensically to various objects in the frame) to horrifically awful (Shyamalan creating what is essentially the worst stabbing scene ever put on film; POV shot, POV shot, shot of knife. Choppy, with edits that are horrifically distracting). If the director's intention was to bore the Hell out of his audience, then he's obviously created a masterpiece here. Nothing that he does in the film hits us in any way. For most of the movie, Shyamalan relies on the traditional jump scare. Usually, unlike in Signs, most of those jumps don't even feature the monsters. It's usually tree branches breaking at twice their normal volume and what not. The huge climactic sequence of the film isn't frightening in the least, because Shyamalan for some reason thinks that a Muppet monster standing in the background of a shot is in any way scary. When it does move, it runs like an over-emotive sprinter. Definitely not the most frightening image around. And the scene is photographed with as few cuts as possible, which hardly gets the blood pumping in any way, since there's nothing particularly interesting the eye can follow.
The performances indicate nothing but extreme boredom. My jaw dropped when I saw that actors such as Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, and Brendan Gleeson could possibly give poor performances. Every actor in this film does his or her best to impersonate sleepwalkers. Unfortunately for the audience, we feel like falling asleep watching these cardboard cut-outs trying to emote. Phoenix does literally nothing in his role. Shyamalan wrote him as something of a mute, and his painfully vacant expressions had me thinking that he really should have played someone who spoke a little bit more. William Hurt acts like a pretentious a*shole throughout, speaking his lines in such a pompous fashion. I usually love this guy's performances, but he does absolutely nothing of note here. Even Gleeson doesn't seem to be having fun here, and he's usually a very gifted character actor. What a shame. Only Bryce Dallas Howard does anything even remotely interesting. She's honestly pretty good, and I hope this movie doesn't ruin her acting career.
Roger Deakins did the film's cinematography, and I find it unfortunate that his work ended up being so bland here. Most of the time, we see very bland colours throughout, the only thing jarring us out of our somnambulist state being the occasional flash of red. Otherwise, the dark scenes are unfortunately lit too brightly, not giving the audience enough sense of mystery to be truly terrified. The scenes in daylight are a bit too bright, and look processed most of the time. In a film that's supposed to be taking place in a spot with no electric light, that definitely isn't a good sign. Finally, whenever a monster shows up, Deakins doesn't even try to put some kind of a shadow over it to make it at all menacing. It's just shown brightly, and it spoils any sense of mystery.
Wrapping all this mediocrity together is a thankfully incredible musical score from James Newton Howard. The guy is an incredible talent, and he almost lifts a few scenes above the level of horrible. His music is provocative and foreboding, unfortunately not reflecting what's happening onscreen. Still, if one closes one's eyes, the music almost makes one think that something far better than this film is playing. There are quiet moments in the score, with the strings used subtly to bring us into the world of The Village. At least I can say that the jumps themselves aren't bad, thanks to Howard providing a few very good jump scare stingers. Finally, I must praise the violin work in the film. The violin is a huge part of this score, and it is just lovely. When that part of the music kicks in, one just wants to lean back and cry. It's that good. I guess it's just unfortunate that it couldn't have been in a better film.The Village is easily one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Shyamalan was obviously working from the first draft of his script, because this puppy needed some major work. It is one Hell of a long, bloated affair that couldn't excite a rock. Depressing to know that it came from a director who once showed so much promise.
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originally posted: 03/26/05 05:19:26