The Village

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The plot in a nutshell
A quaint village, where innocence and peace are of the highest value, has a tenuous relationship with "those we shall not speak of" that live in the woods all around them.  When one of their number needs help, they must venture into the woods to save them.

This is the fourth film from director M. Night Shyamalan, although there was no "the fourth film from" plastered all over the posters, unlike another director who we shall not speak of.  He was also the writer and producer, and the conceit of such power shows.

And yes, technically this is his sixth film as a director - but did anyone actually see Wide Awake or Praying With Anger?

Relatively Spoiler Free Thoughts
There's no way to discuss this film without giving something away, but I have to say that I am very much against a film that deceives in it's previews.  So I'm going to tell you something now that you might not want to know, but I think you deserve to know - this is NOT a horror movie.  Not even close.  Not even at the level of Sixth Sense or Signs, which are also not horror movies in the true sense of the word, but at least contained a few spooks and thrills.

When I went to see Sixth Sense, I knew I was going to see a ghost movie.  When I went to Unbreakable, I knew it was about a superhero.  And when I went to Signs, I knew I was going to get some aliens.  While all of them had twists to the story, they were still the experience I expected.  Here, the experience you expect and the one you get are very different, and that kind of outright deception is never a smart idea.  People will go looking for scares, and they aren't here.

This movie does try a few times, giving you some creepy scenes that you've already had at least partial exposure to through the previews.  But they never really pan out, and since the basic premise (which I won't spoil until the 'spoiler' section below) is obvious within the first 10 minutes, you're aware that there really isn't all that much to be afraid of.

That in itself doesn't mean this isn't a good movie - it just means that lots of people will go in expecting one thing, and get another that's completely different and be tremendously disappointed.  There will be enough backlash just from this to cause confusion.

Unfortunately, it also turns out this is a bad movie.  It follows in his standard theme of belief, and what the ramifications of believing in something above all else (or not believing at all) can be, but here it's heavy handed, obvious, and slow.  They've done a better job expounding on this very subject in half hour Twilight Zones.

The plot is also simply silly, and has some of the same kind of gaping holes that Signs had.  It seems like Shyamalan is spending all his time coming up with a twist ending, and trying to work back from there.  Here, he fails miserably.  BTW, if they call the creatures "those we shall not speak of", what the hell are they talking about them all the time for?

The acting is fine, although the dialog is written in a rather annoying dialect intended to make everyone sound Victorian and old world, but ends up making most of them seem daft.  Adrian Brody plays the town...something.  He's not really an idiot, and actually says some of the more intelligent lines.  Yet, he's not exactly smart either, and seems to be some sort of amalgamation of mental deficiency, emotional dysfunction, and ADA.

Joaquin Phoenix pretends to be the main character, and I think he and Shyamalan thought he was, but it turns out the real star of this film is Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays Ivy Walker, the young, beautiful, tom boy daughter of the main town elder, who also just so happens to be blind.  She sees far more than the rest of this village ever could though.  Her character has all the life that the rest of the characters lack, and she's easily the best thing in this otherwise snooze fest.

Rating - A maybe Renter.
If you never see this film, you'll still be able to die happy.  You might want to rent it just to see what the hoopla is about once it hits the shelves, but it's certainly not worth burning $8 and two hours of your life at the theater.  It's too bad too - this was one of the films I was most looking forward to this entire year, and yet it was easily one of the weakest I've seen.

Spoiler Laden Thoughts
Here's one of those movies with tons to spoil...












How many times have we been treated to a movie about a group of people trying to protect their way of life who create a false threat from the outside to keep everyone in check?  Once you hear the elders babble on about their way of life, you know for sure that the creatures are fake.  If that doesn't tip you off, maybe the many references to all the secrets in the village, and the fact that the elders are clearly more terrified by the 'towns' then they ever appear to be of the creatures will make it obvious enough.

If that doesn't work, let's use a creature design that's so obviously fake it's not even funny.  Ooooo - let's go with big claws, but they should wear a robe to hide their bodies!  and throw in some spikes on the back just for good measure.  If you haven't guessed that there is no threat from the outside within the first half hour, then you haven't watched enough Twilight Zone, Outer Limits or Night Gallery.

And what is the elder's master plan?  They are going to eventually die - who do they think is going to take over the role of Mister Dress Up when they're gone?  It doesn't appear as though they've thought this whole thing out particularly well.  Or maybe it's just Shyamalan who didn't think it out very well.

What's the point of the village?  They seem to be running from violent crime, but then why no medicine?  How can they see penicillin as evil?  And how does feeling that the world has too many violent criminals - and is perhaps too focused on money and power - relate to turning your back on things like medicine?  How about a radical idea like...moving to a better neighborhood? It seems as though Shyamalan is trying to make a point, either about our desire for security over all else, or perhaps the foolishness of believing in something even when it's clearly not true.  But whatever it is, he does a poor job of making it even foggy, let alone clear.

That wouldn't be so bad if the overall outcome wasn't so disappointing.  Please don't tell me that the little boy that died at only seven years old at the beginning of the film couldn't have been saved.  What kind of idiot sacrifices his son for some goofy backwoods ideal of life?  And the guy even admits later that he'd already lost other relatives in the village - what, it took four or five of his family to die before he figured out that you can't run or hide from sorrow?

There's nothing wrong with the concept in general, but here it makes little sense.  They place themselves in the middle of this preserve, using the billions of dollars that they have from Walker's pop.  And yet they provide no out, no way to end the experiment, no safety net?  The real threat to their way of life isn't from the outside world, it's from their own children.  They clearly realize that, since they've gone through so much effort to create the creatures and keep their children from knowing the truth.  But yet they don't act like they realize it.  Instead they show terror at the idea of the outside world finding them, yet, set up all their defenses to keep their own children from finding the truth.

Even the Amish let their kids out for a couple years to choose.  These people have decided to pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist, and force that on their children.  This lie is preferable to reality?  No surprise they were all part of a counseling group.  I could deal with the plot problems though, if the film itself wasn't so slow, rambling and dull.  The twist is interesting enough, but it doesn't need to take 2 hours to get there.

Shyamalan once again sticks himself in the movie.  He needs to stick someone else in a position of power around him, and stop trying to do it all.  This is another fine example of why that doesn't work, and the value of having someone else there to say hey, this is a stupid idea.

Ebert hated this movie - I'm no fan of Ebert, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.  I hate to admit it, but he was right.  Do yourself a favor and avoid this dull, silly, rambling film.

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