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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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.