Having been declared by many to be the next Alfred Hitchcock, M. Night Shyamalan brings us his next film and shows us why he really isn’t.
There’s a big difference between a film that’s clever, and a movie that lies to you. If you can go back and watch the movie after a big twist and see the signs were in front of you all along, then it’s clever. If you go back and see that the twist negates everything else the movie told you, then you’ve been lied to. With The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan proved he could be clever. Now, with The Village he shows just how bad his films can lie as well.
The Village tells the story of a community in the late nineteenth century. The community is in an unknown place, surrounded by a strange woods which holds some sort of mysterious creatures affectionately referred to as “those we don’t speak of” (not to be confused with Harry Potter’s “he who must not be named”). An unspoken pact has been held between the forest’s creatures and the people of the community - the people stay out of the forest, and the creatures leave the village alone. The trailers for The Village would have you believe that the film is about the fragile nature of this pact, and what happens as it starts to break down. As with most Shyamalan pictures however, the trailer is deceptive.
Really this movie is a love story between Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix). When Lucius is injured in an “accident” involving the village idiot (by the more literal meaning of the word) Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), Ivy must brave the forest and make a forbidden trip to the towns on the other side to try and save her love, regardless of the fact that she’s blind. While, newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard does an excellent job of portraying a character that is blind, the film pushes her character into scenarios that are just unbelievable for her character to survive through. With no compass or landmarks to use as references, she manages to navigate her way through woodland areas without getting lost or hurt.
Beyond rookie Howard, the film is full of tons of experienced and talented thespians, including Academy Award winners William Hurt and Adrien Brody, and nominees Sigourney Weaver and Joaquin Phoenix. All of these actors bring their formidable talents to the picture to apply towards the odd speech patterns and quasi-accents of the inhabitants of the village, rendering the actor’s respective abilities useless. Still, given M. Night Shyamalan’s passion for utilizing long continuous shots and letting the actors set the pace of the film, the cast is made up of the right people. It’s just a shame the script didn’t give them more to work with.
It’s not ruining anything to say the movie has a twist - several of them in fact. That’s just the sort of thing we expect from a film brought to us by M. Night these days, and that’s exactly why Shyamalan should challenge himself by trying to direct something else. Even Spielberg had to move out of the sci-fi genre eventually. Without going into detail, the twist The Village offers comes out of nowhere, with no real clues ahead of time to hint at things to come. It’s also a somewhat easy to guess twist that I saw coming before I even stepped into the theater, just from having read the movie’s description. The “twist” negates a lot of the film up to the point that it’s revealed, making you realize the film you’ve been watching has been a lie. Instead of the fun, slammed-in-the-gut surprise of The Sixth Sense, The Village just leaves you disappointed.
Many critics who like The Village have struck out at those of us who don’t, accusing us of not getting the story, whose community being governed out of fear could be seen as a modern day metaphor. I have to say, I get it, but it’s not clever. As with all things, you need to have a solid story before you get clever with a metaphor. While The Village does some things right, it doesn’t work as a total package, and that mars any interest I would have in seeing the film as a metaphor. Get the base story right before you support the film for its symbolism.
M. Night Shyamalan’s DVD releases tend to follow a formula by now. At the very least they include a few deleted scenes, introduced by Shyamalan so he can explain why the material was cut, and one of Night’s childhood homemade movies so you can see how imaginative he was as a child, as well as some sort of behind-the-scenes featurette, which in The Village’s case is a bit disappointing.
While the featurette covers a spectrum of different topics (casting, writing, music, sound effects, etc.) it seems to jump from topic to topic with no transition whatsoever. Part of this is because the twenty minute featurette is broken down so you can access the section you’d like to watch. The bigger problem though, is that it doesn’t really go into depth on any of these subjects. It gives a quick introduction and big picture look at each topic, and then moves on to the next one. While it’s not just an extended commercial for the film, it also doesn’t really go into depth on the making of the movie either, giving you just enough information to spark your interests, and then stopping.
An interesting inclusion is a diary by Bryce Dallas Howard that she kept during the film’s creation. Actually, it’s not so much a diary as it is Howard reading diary entries to images and music from the film. She’s quite a... um, dramatic writer, with a lot of entries thanking God for letting this be her life, and declaring disbelief that she’s so lucky to be in this project, as well as talk of bringing Ivy Walker to life. It’s the kind of semi-schizophrenic talk you might expect from a dedicated actress.Also included is a production gallery, which gives you the option to either navigate yourself or watch as a slide show. It’s nice to see the option given, as many DVDs force the slide show on you these days.
What the disc is lacking is any kind of commentary track, which is to be expected since Night has never offered a commentary track on his films before. What is surprisingly missing is the part where M. Night “reveals clues to the movie’s twists and turns” that is advertised on the package of the DVD. While he does intro the deleted scenes, he doesn’t explain any symbolism or twists and turns for the films. My gut instinct is to say, he doesn’t explain them because they really aren’t there (remember where I say above that they come out of nowhere?) but why advertise a feature you don’t have on the disc?
The DVD release for The Village is rather mediocre, but then, so is the picture itself. It’s hard to have interesting DVD material on a film that has failed to connect with so many people, and while this “Vista series” DVD makes the attempt, it just comes up short. Perhaps including the extremely flawed "Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan” would have helped bolster the DVDs material, although given how bad that feature is it might not have helped the set at all. Unless you’re a completist and absolutely have to have this DVD to finish your set of Shyamalan movies, I’d suggest renting this release or otherwise leaving it alone.