A film review by Craig J. Koban

 
 

 

2004

THE VILLAGE j
˝ 

2004, PG-13, 120 mins.

Lucius Hunt: Joaquin Phoenix / Ivy Walker: Bryce Dallas Howard / Edward Walker: William Hurt / Alice Hunt: Sigourney Weaver / Noah Percy: Adrien Brody / Kitty Walker: Judy Greer / Victor: Frank Collison / Jamison: Jesse Eisenberg

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

The Village (International) Double-sided poster

OPEN MEMO  

To:

 Director M. Night Shyamalan

 

From:

Craig, resident film critic of CrAiGeR’s CINEMA CORNER

 

Re:

Your new film “THE VILLAGE”

 

Dear Mr. Shyamalan:

This is the first serious letter I have ever written to someone in the film industry of any relative power, so I am a bit nervous.  Nevertheless, out of respect to you I will be as forthright, honest, and open in my expressions of my feelings to you in this letter.  I hope that you read it with the right balance of open-mindedness and objectivity. 

First off, I just wanted to very sincerely congratulate you on your previous films.  I think that you are a fresh new director with a clearly defined passion for cinema and you possess real gifts as a visual storyteller.  Your first film, 1999’s THE SIXTH SENSE, was a fine example of combining greats visuals with a thought provoking, tense, and well laid out story.  That film also contained one of the most expertly handled twist endings in recent movie memory.  Your Oscar nomination for that film was truly deserved on your part. 

You next film that followed, 2001’s UNBREAKABLE, was, for my money, one of the most intriguing super hero films I have ever seen.  You commanded very good performances from your leads (especially the underrated Bruce Willis, anyone that can tame a thoughtful and introspective performance out of him deserves accolades, I mean, have you seen COLOR OF NIGHT or LAST MAN STANDING??)  That film also showed us a maturation of your style and abilities to evoke tension and mood. 

Your most previous effort, 2002’s SIGNS, was by all means the crowning achievement of your career.  That was a wonderfully suspenseful and scary film of an alien invasion that was handled on just the right note.  You demonstrated that the most scary things are what we don’t see, and you really created a rich atmosphere to the narrative.   

After seeing SIGNS I had no doubt  that you were one of the prominent new directors of our generation, a unique voice that combined equal parts of Spielberg, Kubrick, and, most notably, Hitchcock (whose influence can clearly be seen in all of your work).  You are a fresh presence in a sea of absolute mediocrity that has souls swimming in it that go by the names Michael Bay and McG.  For those enormously satisfying three films, you should surly be complimented and put on a pedestal of the great directors.  Clearly, I thought that you could only get better. 

It is with great anticipation that I awaited your newest thriller THE VILLAGE.  Seeing as I am such a huge fan of you and your work, and since, as previously mentioned, what truly entertaining and flawlessly directed your first three films were, I had nothing be the highest and sincerest of hopes that you would crank out another summer masterpiece that would provide genuine thrills, scares, well drawn and realized characters, and yet another classic Shyamalanian twist ending that seems to be your calling card.   The trailers for your film were, as usually, minimalist at their core and left me yearning for more.  As you can see, I just could not wait to travel to the local cinema to catch a glimpse of your newest psychological thrill ride. 

Well, Night (can I call you Night?) I went to the film, left the theatre, and went to bed to collect my thoughts.  Essentially, I slept on it.  Then I even gave the film an ever more thorough and elongated “benefit o the doubt” by thinking on it for a day, trying to avoid all press and reviews as to not taint my opinions and judgments.  Now, we are brought up to date with me writing this letter to you, in a bold and courageous effort on my part to say…well… 

Why is THE VILLAGE so bad?! 

No director is perfect by any stretch of the definition (only a select handful are, but you get my drift), but this new thriller is a devastatingly huge misfire of epic proportions by a man as obviously talented as you are. I just don’t get it? You are a director that has done such a virtuoso job of entertaining and thrilling audiences with your dark and atmospheric supernatural tales that developed a genuine sense of dread.  I say this  in hindsight, of course, because THE VILLAGE shows you walking and degenerating towards a dark and depressing path of thoughtless, bland, and unfulfilled films that truly feel not very thought-out.  As a matter of fact, THE VILLAGE is nowhere near what your previous efforts are.  It's not particularly well-written, the characters lack charisma and conviction, the scares are superficial and painfully manufactured at best, and the twist ending (or endings) is not so much twisted as it is  just inane, ridiculously predictable, anti-climatic, and just not that surprising at all. 

It hurts me so to continue writing about this, but you deserve the truth about your film and you equally deserve honesty from your fans. 

THE VILLAGE starts out rather well.  You set the film in a village of a non-specific time or place.  It could be late 1800’s or very early 1900’s, we never can be too sure, and the absence of modern technology creates even more eerie vagueness.  That’s an intrinsically interesting choice because it creates a sense of other worldliness.  Then, to evoke more of a threatening mood, you surround the small village by a dark and ominous forest.  Boy, for the first few minutes, I was really hooked into this, expecting the unexpected, and really grasping my seat hard in terrified anticipation.  You do achieve at creating a decent sense of interest and atmosphere early on.  Your directorial touches are there too, but only in small dosages.  I liked how you held shots (a lot like Kubirck) and allowed the characters to speak and let their performances guide our involvement and not fancy camera moves or quick editing.  You establish a level of patience in developing the story, and for the first little while that marginally worked. 

So, Night, on the level of visualizing the film and creating mood, you were off to a good start.  The problems soon become apparent, especially when you introduce us to the villagers, who seem to have the spunk, energy, and charisma of a five-dollar prostitute.  Your characters are absolutely lifeless and lack charm of any kind.  They seem so jilted and sterile that I had to force myself to stare at the screen and focus really hard to feel like I wanted to get to know them.   The cast is well rounded, to be sure, and you picked some really fine actors.  Joaquin Phoenix (who was great in SIGNS) is again used by you here, but he’s so under cranked and rigid that you have to remind yourself that he is a protagonist (or is he, I can’t really tell).  Sigourney Weaver is all but wasted by you and is forced to utter the most stale and lifeless dialogue this side of a cultural museum exhibit.  Your casting of William Hurt as the village patriarch seems a bit more inspired, but he too is so genuinely flavorless and solemn that you find yourself checking your watch more than listening to him.  The rest of the elders of the village, like Brendan Gleeson, are also weakly realized.  The only standout was Bryce Dallas Howard as the blind daughter of Hurt.  She seems more fleshed out, but one right does not correct several wrongs. 

The biggest character sin of all, on your part, was with recent Oscar winner Adrien Brody who plays the Village idiot.  Okay, he’s “mentally challenged”, but instead of probing into his character and given him something constructive to do you reduce him down to a blubbering and salivating buffoon who serves no other purpose than to activate the plot into its concluding third act.  I can’t say much more in regards to his character, but a later development with him is so laughable, inexplicable, implausible, and so lacking in logic that I felt like leaving the theatre.   

The plot is simple enough, but gradually self-destructs in a large capacity about half way through.  You establish the basic premise that the forests are populated by creatures that do not allow humans to enter, thus, the villagers are forbidden to enter the forests.  They constantly refer to them as “Those We Do Not Speak Of” in what revels itself to be a painfully ambiguous and increasingly annoying term that is constantly regurgitated by the villagers.  It's kind of a catch 22 term -  if the creatures are beings that are never spoken of, but are constantly referred to by the villagers, they why the hell are they always called “Those we do not speak of”?   Night, they sure speak about them all the time; maybe a colorful name would have been nice?  It also becomes a sort of unintentionally funny gag when the villagers say the term, especially in one scene when the blind daughter thinks she touches one of the "they's we do not"...er...I mean...forest creatures. That scene should have been scary, but was more amusing in hindsight. 

And as for the physical creatures themselves, I think you failed again here.  They are so poorly realized.  When we are given one quick glance at them early on (which was a cardinal blunder on your part, did you not learn anything from SIGNS…don’t show the audience what’s scary) the look like Nosferatus dressed up for a rave party.  Not to mention that, upon looking at them rather closely, I think that the audience can quickly surmise what’s up with them.  This should not happen. 

With all due respect, I think you made a serious miscalculation with revealing the “truth” about these creatures early on…too early in fact.  It does not have any jolting power or shock value, considering that I could see it from a mile away.  Imagine revealing the secret of THE SIXTH SENSE by the first hour and I think you know what I mean.  And Night, this “twist” only makes your next “twist” so relentlessly predicated.  That essentially botches the last hour of the film.  I have no idea what you were also thinking with the third act involving Hurt sending his blind daughter through the woods into the “forbidden towns” for medicine for an injured villager.  Is it just I, or is it just to insane to believe that a blind girl could have done what she did and travel as far as she did?  The film was a goner by this point, going from being something that was potentially fascinating and into something that was just too flimsy and dumb to be taken seriously.  Not only that, but you end the film so abruptly and leave so many necessary questions unanswered that I nearly developed a migraine just pondering them.  Night, ambiguous endings are ok, but ones that leave you hanging are a sin. 

Listen Night, I don’t want this to sound like I am being completely unreasonable by  labeling you as a fool or, even worse, an undisciplined filmmaker.  I have too much respect for you for that type of maliciousness.  Yet, I still must be honest  by telling you that THE VILLAGE failed as a gothic thriller and meandered into something that was a bewildering disappointment.  To say I am surprised or shocked by the ineptitude of the piece is almost perfunctory at this point.  You started with something intriguing and let it slip away…fast.  And I knew there was a problem with this film when, afterwards while I was discussing it with friends, that we were talking endlessly about ways the film could have improved if different choices were made.  I should never feel that way leaving one of your films.  I expected to be entertained and thrilled, but what I got was a film buried in a tedious and unconvincing narrative.  Night, I still have faith in you as an artist and as a talented filmmaker and I think that, no doubt, you will parachute out of this  failure with a finer follow-up film.  I only feel that,  if you don’t,  then your reputation as being the next Alfred Hitchcock is in serious jeopardy. 

Thanks for reading and understanding my thoughts, Night.  I hope you understand. 

Sincerely yours, from one of your biggest fans, 

-CrAiGeR

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