The Village

The Village

The Village is not Shyamalan’s best but for the die hard fan it will find a place in their collections

The Village

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Sometimes, even the best cast and crew that can be assembled miss the mark. After all, the New York Yankees have the highest pay roll in major league baseball and, well; they couldn’t get the runs to grab the 2004 World Series.

That’s how I felt while watching M. Night Shyamalan’s most recent film, The Village. The film had potential but it seems that nothing could manager that last run in the bottom of the ninth to save the day. The story opens in a secluded village where a funeral has just taken place. The small community has a prohibition against anyone leaving the limits to the village, from daring to enter the forest that surrounds their home. Prompted by the death a young man, Lucias (Joaquin Phoenix) requests permission to break that proscription to seek medicine in a near by town. He makes his request to the Elders, headed by Edward Walker (William Hurt), which is turned down out of fear of upsetting ‘those we do not speak of’, some sort of beast that lurks in the woods. The Village may look like a puritan settlement from the 1600’s but there are rules those strict people never could have imagined. You may not display the bad color, red, it is forbidden as it will infuriate the beasts. No one can venture out of the limits of the community, they wait there. As the young people come of age their natural curiosity starts to work on them resulting in some like Lucias wondering why the rules exist. Most young people find a time when rebellion against parental authority comes about but here they don’t risk being grounded, the safety of the whole community is at stake.

With such a somber tone established so early on in the film there is a need for a bit of a romantic triangle. This is established with young Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the blind, tomboy daughter of Elder Walker who is the object of desire for Lucias and the village idiot Noah (Adrien Brody). This romance blossoms amidst the corpses of animals and the growing terror of the townsfolk. There are several potentially compelling themes at work here, rebellion, young love, isolation for the world and hide bound tradition but without a strong central thread they just fall to the way side. Most of the interest is lost in the overly heavy, forced Middle English dialogue and the dusty feel to everything. The film is overly pretentious and takes itself far too seriously. Promises are made to the audience that is never quite paid in full.

I do have to admit that this is some incredible talent accumulated for this film. Many are no strangers to the Oscar ceremonies, some even on the winning end. William Hurt plays the Elder Walker with a stern, authoritarian manner. He is responsible for the lives of his community, a task he does not take lightly. Balancing his role is that of another elder, Alice Hunt, played with finesse by Sigourney Weaver. She balances her position in the community with a motherly concern for her son Lucias. Joaquin Phoenix is one of those actors that can make the most out of any roles. His talent is such that he his not only capable of holding a complex leading role but he can also provide fantastic performances as character actor. The real bright spot in this dank film is the performance of Bryce Dallas Howard. She has had some bit roles in prestigious films as Apollo 13, The Grinch and Parenthood, all of which where directed by her father, Ron Howard. It was not a case of hiring a famous director’s kid here; this young woman has an incredible natural talent. She takes the character of Ivy and makes it into one of the few that the audience wants to become emotionally invested with. Adrien Brody is a chameleon of an actor, able to slip into any role and give his all. Fresh off his Oscar win for the Pianist, he plays an addled young man, enamored by a pretty young girl. It takes a smart actor to play a village idiot and Brody takes on the role without the usual clichés. Since the real antagonists of the film are the beasts, Brody was able to pull back on his presentation of Noah, not needing to make him the ultimate bad guy.

M. Night Shyamalan is trying to be the heir apparent for the late Alfred Hitchcock but he has a way to go before he can even consider himself a journeyman to the master. While his first film, The Sixth Sense, was an astounding, well constructed film, with the Village Shyamalan seems to be trying too hard. The use of the color red in Sixth Sense was subtle and well placed but here the trademark use of color is overly overt, pushed in the face of the audience. The pacing of the Village is off; the scenes just seem to fall into each other instead of providing a more natural flow. This film drags, if it was an episode of the Twilight Zone the format would have forced tighter editing greatly helping the final reveal. Shyamalan is one of the more talented directors around today; hopefully, he will take this as a learning experience and come back with his next film and wow us all.

The DVD of this film does a pretty good job of presenting the film. The audio is in a somewhat lackluster Dolby 5.1. There is the obligatory ambient sounds of he forest provided and the rear speakers sound off now and again to emphasis movement and the environment but it seems like we heard this all before. The anamorphic 1.85 video is a bit muted which actually does work. It gives the feel of a community that is being kept in an unnatural emotional check by its own regulations. Shyamalan introduces some deleted scenes giving the rational for omitting them from the final cut. In most cases it is easy to understand why and agree with the decision. The featurette ‘Deconstructing the Village’ details the production process and is basically a making of featurette that is taken to a little more depth. This is not Shyamalan’s best but for the die hard fan it will find a place in their collections.

Movie Review of The Village by Doug MacLean of

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