DVD Review of The
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 4/1/05
I seem to be the only person who recognizes how poorly written M. Night
Shyamalan’s films are. Is it because I’m a Hitchcock aficionado? No. I just
have an ability to read narrative arcs and see where things are going. It was
obvious that Bruce Willis was dead in The Sixth Sense, that Samuel L.
Jackson was the bad guy in Unbreakable, and that, well, Signs sucked
altogether. Perhaps I demand too much, ot perhaps it’s because I see in MNS a
burgeoning Spike Lee or Steven Spielberg- i.e.- someone with a great eye but no
knack for storytelling. My advice: become a cinematographer, or write better
tales! This, especially, goes out to MNS, since he writes his films, and all are
‘twist ‘ films- dependent upon that final reveal.
This means there are two problems- 1) once the twist is revealed the film is not worth watching a second time, and 2) he’s no Rod Serling. You see, MNS is a very predictable and ham-handed director- utterly lacking in subtlety- HE HITS YOU OVER THE HEAD! Yet, it turns out his weapons are rather pallid.
Here is a capsule synopsis of The Village: a bunch of do-gooder Luddite Liberals from the 60s get fed up with modern materialism, and decide to go Anabaptist. Fortunately, the head nut, Edward Walker (William Hurt) is the son of a billionaire, who buys a piece of land, walls it up as a nature preserve and he and his friends raise their children to believe that they are living in the late 19th Century, and their village is surrounded by Those We Do Not Speak Of- boogeymen, of sorts, who routinely terrorize the wacky villagers. Years later, when the film begins, the next generation really believes they are in the 19th Century, and the blind daughter, Ivy Walker (Bryce Howard- daughter of schlockmeister Ron Howard) of the head nut has fallen in love with a guy named Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), son of Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver)- Ed’s old flame from the days of bong. The only other character of note is psychotic Noah Percy, played by a scenery chewing Adrien Brody.
Ivy is blind, but desired by both Noah and Lucius- who ever wants to leave the village, so seeks permission. Noah finds out of Lucius’s and Ivy’s love, and stabs Lucius. This means Ivy the blind, somehow, has to go to The Towns, i.e.- outside the preserve for medicine. She does, after being abandoned by chickenshit companions and learning, from Ed that Those are just a hoax meant to keep the villagers in line. Yet, as blind Ivy stumbles through the forest she is followed by a Those. Incredibly, the blind girl ends up killing the one of Those- who turns out to be Noah. Ivy makes it outside the preserve, meets a friendly ranger, gets meds and returns to save Lucius. End story.
This film had potential, but the only character developed is Ivy, and Howard could be a major star- pretty, red haired, but not gorgeous, she reminded me of a younger version of Canadian actress Megan Follows, of Anne Of Green Gables fame, with girl next door looks that could make her a natural in Julia Roberts-type roles. But, none of the other character’s had real motivations. MNS tries to jam ideas in, but all his films are thin half hour minute Twilight Zone episodes on steroids. As for it being an allegory on modern day life- where elitists/religiots hoodwink the gullible masses, funded by the super-rich. Yeah, got that well before the reveal that this was not set in the 19th Century. This ain’t your father’s The Crucible! The acting is generally atrocious- not so much from the clipped attempt at old English, as much as the constant clichés these cardboard cutouts use, their melodramatic whispers, and the dreadful close-ups MNS uses. Many of the lesser known actors, it’s claimed in the extras, were stage trained, and their awkwardness in front of a camera shows. Add to that many cheap, hermetic scares, where the characters are terrified and the audience yawns, and you have a mess of a film, and cheap explanations- after Noah stabs Lucius he is confined, only to escape via floorboards in a Those costume, conveniently stored below. Then there are scary things that are not and the love story has no passion as Phoenix is a terrible actor- how he keeps getting roles is beyond me. The whole set up is silly. If the village elders know the difference between the real world and their The Truman Show-like irreality, why worry if a blind girl will find her way out? Why affect a 19th Century accent, or put 1897 on a tombstone? The Luddite kids would have no idea it was meant to connote that, for they’d not grasp what 1897 was to be like? It could easily be claimed to be 1238 or 2467. The only reason is to fool the viewers- thus the internal universe of the film is logically inconsistent. Of course, there are many other inconsistencies, as well. MNS really needs to hire good screenwriters to flesh out his ideas.
This film had potential to be as great a work of art as that other great fictive The Village- from the 1967 tv show The Prisoner, but it fails miserably on all levels. MNS wouldn’t know a well-written script if you beat him with it. Am I repeating myself? Let me range a little more- I am tired of mere cinematographers posing as auteurs. Learn narrative arcs. Perhaps I do expect too much- like character development, plausible plots, etc. and tales not based on a twist, but situations that logically and/or organically grow out of situation.
Yet, a quick review of professional critics’ reviews was astounding, for most seemed to miss that this was a film not set in the 19th Century- instead believing that some time tripping had occurred. As for the extras? There’s no commentary, thankfully, for the featurettes are fellatric enough- including a heinous diary by Bryce Howard, and an execrable bit of another of MNS’s bad home movies from childhood. He seems to put far more care into his childhood films selected for the DVDs than he does his actual grown up films. In short, MNS delivers another film with a good premise, but lousy execution in all aspects. I’ve given up on him as a film director, but I’m sure he’s got his next twist film already in the works. (Sigh!)
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the 3/05 Hackwriters website.]
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