M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan
Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston
PG-13 (For a scene of violence and frightening situations)
A small village isolated from civilization by a vast forest and a terror lurking within is the setting for M. Night Shyamalan’s fourth feature film The Village.
The people of the town think nothing of their lives. They live in a puritan environment filled with joy and simplicity. There is something deeper however as the small hamlet keeps a steadfast eye on the woods as nasty, murderous creatures lurk outside its borders separated by a long line of polls bearing the “safe” color yellow.
Red is the color that is to be avoided and is symbolic of the evil that lurks in the forest as what is out there is drawn to that color. The color that is never mentioned is one that the blind Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) sees when she seeks her love interest Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix). She constantly tells him not to ask her what the color she sees is and apparently it’s a red herring as we wait to find out the result for the entire film and never discover the answer.
Complicating matters is the mentally retarded Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) who has as much of a crush on Ivy as the one Lucius is hiding. Their parents are each part of a council that governs the village and keeps the laws in tact while hiding their own pasts locked in small black boxes in their homes. Lucius’ mother Alice (Sigourney Weaver) and Ivy’s father Edward (William Hurt) appear to be the leads of said council.
Normally, these talented players give outstanding performances but Shyamalan seems less interested in their characterization than he does in the film’s mysterious and spooky feel. Weaver and Hurt can’t be dulled, even by poor direction, but Brody and Phoenix woefully under-perform. Brody, hot off his Academy Award win delivers the film’s most tepid performance. Phoenix only falls into unchallenging scenes where little talent is needed. Howard, in contrast, gives the film’s only truly solid performance.
The strength of the film is its artistic elements. Cinematographer Roger Deakins rarely disappoints and this is one of his finest achievements. The colors are so crisp and neat that it gives you the impression that The Village is far removed from reality. The editing creates a suitable sense of apprehension and tension. The cuts feel as clean as any in a Hitchcock thriller.
The film’s biggest disservice is Shyamalan’s uneven, confusing script that concludes with a surprise, but a dismal one.
Disappointing is the best adjective to describe The Village as one can’t help but feeling disillusioned by an ending as non-sensical as this. With films like The Sixth Sense , it’s not hard to believe that Shyamalan can come up with good and unerring scripts, but after the equally disastrous Signs , it appears that Shyamalan is turning into a one-trick pony.
The surprise ending has become a mainstay of Hollywood in recent years and everyone is trying to match the success of Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense. But, as Ang Lee proved with The Hulk , you can’t teach an old genre new tricks, even with a flash of editing flare. Still, The Village is one of those films that audiences will flock to, enjoy, but leave unimpressed.
August 2, 2004