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After Earth, the new movie from director M. Night Shyamalan, arrives in theaters this weekend…but you wouldn’t know it’s one of his films by watching the trailer. The filmmaker’s name is almost completely absent from the trailers and advertisements, and all this week we here at Cinema Blend are trying to figure out where it all went wrong. Yesterday, Eric complained about the unnecessary twist in Unbreakable and today, Mack talks about why The Village was so frustrating.
There are a lot of directors in Hollywood who make awful movies because they’re awful at directing. They can’t figure out how to pace a film and/ or when to cut. They can’t figure out how to coax great performances out of actors and/ or how to build tension. In short, they can’t master a high enough percentage of all the little details it takes to whip up a watchable product. M Night Shyamalan, however, is not one of those directors. He’s technically precise. He’s often very inventive with camera angles, and he usually has a great sense of when to cut. Of all the directors in Hollywood, he’s easily in the top quarter when it comes to most of these categories. He would crush a standardized test about directing. Unfortunately, there’s one facet of directing that can’t really be taught, and to paraphrase Project Runway judge Michael Kors, Shyamalan’s taste level is really iffy.
In retrospect, there were little indicators of this sketchy taste level peppered throughout the early M Night films, but they didn’t sink in like an Adrian Brody stab wound for most people until The Village. Blessed with what he thought was an epic reveal, Shyamalan set up constructing layers to camouflage said reveal. Deep inside those woods, he created an overly religious and oddball society run by a small group of elders. He created a mentally disabled weirdo who laughs at the malaise of impending doom. He skinned animals. He wrote in a blind protagonist. He even brought along Michael Pitt’s glazed eyes. In short, he gave himself all the ingredients he needed for a great horror movie, without realizing those ingredients were infinitely better than that big reveal that wasn’t as creative as he thought.
The first forty-five minutes of The Village is off-putting in all the best ways. The scene where Ivy stands on the porch with her hand outstretched while the creatures are wafting by is a masterstroke, and that cut-to shot from Judy Greer’s enthusiastic I-love-you speech to her loud sobs inside the bed is a great moment of timely comedy. There’s all the potential in the world within that plot, but alas, it’s all thrown by the wayside to suit that stupid original idea that’s only vaguely amusing until you actually start thinking about all the practicalities it would entail.
The Village is not the worst Shyamalan movie. Hell, it’s not even really a bad movie. It’s just a really infuriating one. It’s a missed opportunity. More importantly, it was our first real indication that something was seriously fucked in the director’s decision-making process. Hopped up on all his monetary successes and ignoring the grumbles coming from his fanbase, he locked himself inside the monkey house and walked out with dozens of clever ideas and one big piece of shit. Too bad he couldn’t and may never be able to smell the difference.