a critiQal film review The Village (2004)

  • DVD
  • Vudu

Plot: The people in this quiet town have always known about the creatures that live in the woods. For years, they've had a pact: they don't go into the woods, and the creatures don't come into their village. But, when strife strikes their village, one of them may have to break that rule - no matter what the consequences could be for the entire village.

1006 words (Est. Reading Time 5m 1s)
  • ...one creature feature that leads nowhere you want to go.

M. Night Shyamalan is back again The Village. His first movie, The Sixth Sense (1999), was so amazing nothing could have followed it – a truly exceptional film that broke movie boundaries. It launched the career of young Haley Joel Osment, re-started Bruce Willis’ career, and introduced the phrase “I See Dead People” into the lexicon of famous movie lines.

With that kind of build-up, his second film, Unbreakable (2000), couldn’t hope to succeed – and it didn’t. Taken apart from The Sixth Sense (1999), it was not a bad movie – it just couldn’t live up to people’s expectations after the first film.

Then, with expectations lower, Signs (2002) hit theaters – and sucked. Now, M. Night’s fourth film, The Village, is on DVD and people are clamoring to see it – still hoping (as they did with Signs (2002) and Unbreakable (2000)) that M. Night will bring another The Sixth Sense (1999) phenomenon to the screen.

So, will The Village be at least a start of something good once again from the mind of M. Night – or will it continue the downward spiral of it’s predecessors?

A lot of stars hitched on for The Village (obviously, it’s not just M. Night’s box office success – that is due largely in part to the memory of The Sixth Sense (1999). After all, what star would want to pass up the chance to star in the next version of that phenomenon? And who better to bring that about, they reason, then the man who brought us The Sixth Sense (1999)?), among them Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt.

William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson and the rest are pushed mainly into the background, never really achieving any sort of quality screen time in The Village. Also, unfortunately, they seem (for this movie at least) to have picked up a bad habit from co-star Joaquin – their voices are so monotone when reciting their lines the viewer will keep looking around for the cue card they know to be there. But that’s not the only thing Joaquin doesn’t contribute to the film – as usual.

Joaquin (in case the reader hasn’t visited some of the other movie reviews on this site that he appears in) has never been a real site favorite (leave that to the professionals like Samuel L Jackson – critiQal will see anything he has a hand in). Joaquin’s past acting jobs have never really put him in the forefront in terms of quality – and The Village is no different. He bumbles his way through yet another film with that ever-present hangdog look visible on his visage throughout each and every scene (Personally, this viewer never really understood that look – does he think it make him a better dramatic actor, or what? If he pulled it out when it was needed – say at a sad point in the film, it would be more effective. But when that look is there whether he’s happy, angry, sad, or anything in between – that just ruins any effect it may have had if used sparingly. Then again, maybe he can’t help it – maybe that dour expression is permanent).

The real stars of the film aren’t the big-name actors that abound. Instead it’s lesser-known actors Bryce Dallas Howard and Adrien Brody who take up most of the screen time in The Village. An interesting choice by M. Night – taken the spotlight off the actors who are used to it, and thrusting smaller names into the limelight. He did choose well for at least one of his lesser-knowns: Bryce really is able to contribute a decent performance to this flop of a film. As the blind girl Ivy, she really seems to grasp what M. Night was aiming for and really takes it to heart – turning her scenes (especially in the last half of the film) into a brief ray of light in this otherwise tired and drab film. Adrien, on the other hand, spends the film looking like he’s about to drool – but doesn’t. That’s about it. Oh well, one out of two ain’t bad.

The Village starts out with a decent premise: a bunch of villagers are terrorized by creatures living in the neighboring woods. A decent premise – if you’re a B-rated horror flick. But, M. Night probably could have made a decent film out of it anyway – but chooses not to. Instead, he goes off on a tangent all his own, and drags the viewers along for the rather dull ride. It’s easily the worst of his films, and the slow beginning builds up to a rather slow middle, and leaves us with a very pat ending. Obviously, M. Night discovered his tangent didn’t lead anywhere interesting before the movie finished, but was too far gone to turn back, so just wrapped it all up in a little bow and called it good. It’s ridiculous, and not worth the time to sit through.

Okay, so The Village stunk. But, deep down, how many people are really surprised? After all, the downward spiral of M. Night’s film has been increasing since his directorial debut. Think about it. Movie #1 (The Sixth Sense (1999)) – phenomenal. Movie#2 (Unbreakable (2000)) – decent. Movie #3 (Signs (2002)) – not so good. And now Movie #4 (The Village) – pathetic.

So, with that said, why isn’t The Village getting our lowest rating? 2 reasons. First, Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance does do a decent job of trying to pull the movie out of the gutter (even if it fails to so). Secondly, if this movie got our lowest rating, what would we be able to give to M. Night’s next film (Lady In The Water (2006))? Sure, it could be decent, but in all likelihood, it’s going to be even worse than this film. And then what? I can’t give a film something worse than our lowest rating, now can I?

So, give The Sixth Sense (1999) or Unbreakable (2000) another viewing – and follow the Signs (2002) to avoid The Village entirely. It’s definitely someplace you don’t want to go.

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