By contributor Patrick Zabriskie
Summary: A film with the best intentions that, in the end, simply doesn’t deliver.
Review: M. Night Shyamalan, once an acclaimed young filmmaker, has gradually become something of a joke in Hollywood, thanks to a string of subpar films that wrap themselves in a cloak of unfulfilling mystery. It’s a shame too, as early on in his career, he was responsible for ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘Unbreakable’, and ‘Signs’, which encompass a trinity of good, suspenseful filmmaking and are among my favorite films to watch. By most accounts his problems began with his follow-up to ‘Signs’, a little film called ‘The Village’ which, while interesting, ultimately set itself up for disaster.
To reference something James once said, the ‘The Village’ isn’t half bad, it’s just a little under three-fourths good. It suffers from two major issues. First, it was marketed as a strict horror movie. I remember the commercials for this movie attempted to portray it in a shocking, frightening manner, comparing it to ‘Signs’ in much the same, unfair way that ‘Unbreakable’ was compared to ‘The Sixth Sense’ upon its release. The truth is that, while there are elements of horror in ‘The Village’, its much more of slow-paced mystery than simple terror. Those who went in expecting ‘Signs’ found themselves disappointed when they realized they were dealing with a very different animal.
For being a slow-paced mystery with a touch of terror, though, it isn’t badly done… at first. The turn of the century town in which the film takes place is guarded on all sides by evil spirits in the surrounding forest, or so the elders say, and so the town folk can never leave, forced to remain locked in forever. Of course, it wouldn’t be hard to guess that this film would have someone, that someone being a girl, daring to venture into the forest and the outside world, and therefore confronting these alleged demons.
All that is fine and dandy, but now we must get to the second problem. ‘The Village’ banks on a plot twist that doesn’t really work. I won’t tell you what it is, for the sake of seeing the film, but rest assured, it doesn’t help the story. The issue is this; a plot twist, when used well, ought to really add something to the story. It ought to show things in a new light and give new meaning and perspective to the events of the film. It should give depth. This is the sort of twist M. Night Shyamalan gave us in ‘The Sixth Sense’.
In ‘The Village’ however, the plot twist that comes devalues a lot of the film’s previous moments. The sense of mystery that worked well enough earlier seems pointless afterword. It raises too many questions that the film vaguely answers at best, and it leaves the audience feeling empty inside. Instead of some needed depth for the film, it makes it seem shallower. As Roger Ebert put it (though he disliked this film much more than I did) it was little better than saying that everything that happened up to that point was a dream.
That all said, its obvious Shyamalan had a lot of faith in this story. He does show strong direction in this film, and by that I mean he does a good job of setting things up early in the film. He does spark our interest in what’s going on and we do care about what happens to the people of this town. The initial ideas we are presented with are strong enough; they just get derailed and don’t wind up paying off. An audience should feel challenged, but never alienated, and unfortunately there’s more of the latter than the former by the time the credits roll.
‘The Village’ was a box office success, though not to the degree its predecessors had been. Critically it was mostly negative or, at best, mixed. I think most people would agree that this is where M. Night Shyamalan began descending into the hole from which he has yet to stop digging. Still, I have hope that he has good filmmaking left in him, provided he neither gives in to the demands of Hollywood nor his own established tropes (he really should stop putting plot twists in his films). I happened to like the first half of ‘The Village’, and so I recommend this movie for one full watch. Come to think of it, maybe less than a full watch — when you come to the part where the female protagonist decides to leave the village, you may just want to stop it there, avoid the plot twist, and leave well enough alone.