The Village (2004) / Thriller-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and scary images
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, John Christopher Jones, Jayne Atkinson, Judy Greer
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Review published July 31, 2004
A quick note to readers: To avoid possible spoilers, I'm just going to forego giving my usual plot summary in this review, except when necessary.
M. Night Shyamalan has become the "gimmick director". After giving us twists in The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, we may forever come into his films knowing that atmospheric build-up will eventually pay off with a revelation ending. His reputation proves to be a double-edged sword in terms of his prowess as a film maker, and also in the degree to which we enjoy his films. It seems that the movies are measured by many only by how much viewers were fooled at the time of the revelation, or how plausible they find it, instead of the usual benchmarks of the acting, directing, music, sets, costumes, etc.
Although just telling you there is a twist in a film is a spoiler in and of itself, and I try to avoid telling you if there is one if I possibly can, Shyamalan only has himself to blame for ruining this aspect of it. Film critics and others in the media have been asked to not reveal the end of The Village, which is, of course, a sure tip-off to everyone.
Shyamalan knows that his films are little more than sleight-of-hand tricks performed by a master illusionist, and there-in lies the major problem for this and future enjoyment of his films. We know he is up to trickery, so we spend much of the film trying to figure out "something". We aren't sure what that something is, but we know something is out there, In The Sixth Sense that "something" revealed made it a great film in the eyes of many viewers, earning it an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but I feel that it is only because people who saw the film had no idea there was a "something", and were genuinely unprepared for the bottom dropping out of the story in the end.
So, herein lies a problem with having to review The VIllage, because everything about it tells me it is a well-crafted, quality film. The performances by Ron's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, as well as co-stars Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, 8MM) and William Hurt (AI, Body Heat), are first-rate, while the direction by Shyamalan delivers all of the good, atmospheric tension you've come to know and admire. Nice cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, A Beautiful Mind) and a subdued but effective score by James Newton Howard (The Fugitive, The Devil's Advocate) add to the feeling of dread. The build-up of the story, as well as of the characters, is right on target.
It does come unhinged a bit toward the end, but in my opinion, just like Signs, the ending doesn't deflate enough of what Shyamalan built up so marvelously to not make it worthwhile. Unfortunately, many will come away either feeling let down by the film's revelation, or they may have been onto it all along, but does that necessarily make it a bad movie? I would argue that it doesn't, although I'm sure most viewers probably won't take too readily to the implausibility of it. 'Nuff said on this.
The Village does just miss the mark of being a good film, primarily due to it being more an exercise in trickery than it is in thematic elements. Shyamalan provides a solid foundation for a story, with good mystery elements and rich photography, but his constant desire to engage in "Twilight Zone" theatrics does cheapen the impact somewhat. However, I am still giving it a recommendation for still being interesting despite its shortcomings, because there is still a subtle power and haunting beauty to it that can't be overlooked. Shyamalan does possess the gifts to be a great filmmaker, and hopefully he realizes this and gets out of the rut of constantly trying to play the audience for fools before he is permanently labeled as little more than a one-trick pony.
©2004 Vince Leo