Review: “The Village”

All done with ghosts, superheroes and aliens it now seems that M. Night Shyamalan has turned his Hitchcock meets “Twilight Zone” style of filmmaking to the topic of mythical forest creatures and the result is his most divisive film yet. As a filmmaker, the man quickly sealed his own fate and became locked into delivering films which, as an audience, we’ve come to expect wild elaborate twists towards the end which turn the reality of the film’s events upside down. After all “The Sixth Sense” was a rather dry and so-so paced drama, which was saved by one of the great twists of modern cinema.

The trouble is now the surprise is gone, people going in from the first frame are already trying to guess the twist. Yet instead of making it harder or more elaborate, with each movie he seems to be deliberately dumbing down everything to the point that “The Village” works far more as a satire of his style of filmmaking – taken seriously it really is quite laughable. The premise is a little far fetched but has possibilities and there’s some strong merits here like a great performance by Bryce Dallas Howard as a blind girl who essentially becomes the film’s main character, but aside from some good creepy moments there’s a lot of problems including the assorted twists.

The strongest elements here are that the film does look pretty good. The creatures are a little cheap but covered in an interesting design, the cinematography is quite beautiful in places, the stark woods are quite breathtaking and acting turns from the likes of Phoenix, Greer and Weaver are all nicely understated. Other performances however aren’t so crash hot with William Hurt phoning his stuff in, whilst Brody’s mentally retarded guy just feels ingratiating.

The script isn’t much either – the early action of the creatures with the red slashes on the door and the sudden rise in aggression are all left with little to no real explanation by the end. Dialogue is painfully trite at times, and the score gets overblown. Yet the action, when it does happen, works well and there’s some great tense sequences such as the attack in the woods and the first time they enter the village itself.

I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, but the four or so twists in this (especially the last one) are the kind that many people will consider almost right off the bat but think “Oh no, he’s not going to be that stupid” – think again kids. Admittedly the first one you don’t really see coming and it remains the film’s best – the other three though take the easy way out and render what was up til that point some atmospheric scenes into complete wastes.

Much of the last 15-20 minutes the audience I was with erupted in laughter and deservedly so. This is not a career ending film for Shyamalan, but it’s a real signal fire that if he doesn’t reinvent himself next time then he’ll quickly disappear off the map. It looks like the guy may have inherited a reverse “Star Trek” film curse (odd numbered ones great, even numbered ones awful). Even more than the flawed “Unbreakable”, this will really see a large backlash against him despite the fact there is a decent amount of stuff of note in here that does demand attention. Picturesque, slightly haunting but silly in a frustrating way.