Monday, March 07, 2005
Review by Sombrero Grande
I’m going to start this review by saying that I liked The Village. I know this film has gotten a lot of heat from your average Joe Reviewer who’ll say it’s not worth your time because the “twist” is too easy to predict and Jane Public will echo the same thing, likely adding the word “dumb” to describe said twist. Aren’t you glad you don’t listen to them?
M. Night Shyamalan has gotten a reputation for being a kind of modern Rod Serling, someone who’ll only tell you a story if there’s a twist at the end. After The Sixth Sense gave audiences a doozy of a twist, demanding they get back in line to see the film again to take it all in once more, M. Night hasn’t had an easy time breaking out of the notion that his films are all about the twist. For any serious cinema connoisseur, this idea is preposterous. Yes, his films all have twists, but unlike a Twilight Zone episode where everything leads up to the moment when Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses or the astronauts discover they’ve been crash-landed back on Earth all along, the twist is not the reason for the story, merely an element in telling it in an interesting way.
Yes, the “twist” in The Village is fairly easy to predict. Heck, after merely watching the trailer and turning to the person next to you, you could query, “what do you think the TWIST is?” and he’ll probably get the general idea of it. But if all your looking for in watching The Village is a twist then quite frankly you deserve to be disappointed.
A legitimate reason for disappointment comes if you are looking to The Village to scare the pants off of you. Really all the genuine scares are already given away in the trailer. I’ll get more into detail in the spoiler section, but The Village is one of the least scary “scary” movies I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for a frightening monster movie, this isn’t what you’ll get out of this film, and it’s a shame it was marketed as such.
The thing I most enjoy about M. Night’s films is the fact that they are so unexpectedly frightening. The thing that ends up causing the most terror is never what you’re lead to expect; it’s never the supernatural or extra-terrestrial MacGuffin that moves the story forward; it’s real, everyday people and the frightening things they are capable of. In The Sixth Sense, the ghosts were never nearly as frightening as the mother who poisoned her own children just so she could get attention. In Unbreakable, the strange powers granted to Bruce Willis were no match for the stomach-turning moments when he sees into the lives of the “ordinary people” all around him, like the one who casually decides he’s going to rape a girl who has passed out. THESE are the moments in his films which send icy shivers up my spine because they are so terrifyingly REAL. Why fear a ghost in the darkness of your closet when the real, honest-to-goodness things to fear are actually around us all the time in the darkness of mankind. The Village continues this trend, so those looking for the “creatures” to provide Freddy or Jason-like scares will be very sorely disappointed.
There’s so much that can be enjoyed in this film if you’re not hung up on trying to figure out the twist. For instance, I was struck by how well sound was used in the film. One of the main characters is blind and so visuals are not nearly as heavily relied upon in the telling of the story as we’re used to. People are often shown at a distance or from the back or covered in a large cloak so we don’t often “see” them clearly. Audible clues are very distinct, often being the main source of information about what’s occurring in a scene. I especially enjoyed the moment in the forbidden shed when the audience discovers via “touch” what blind Ivy is discovering. The scene was remarkably well done cinematically for my tastes, managing to put the audience in the place of a blind girl feeling something using deft camerawork and staging.
So don’t listen to reviewers who state, “I’m so f**king smart; I figured out the twist,” because these boneheads’ self-congratulatory opinions obviously aren’t worth your attention. The Village is not one of M. Night’s best (my personal favorite remains Signs) but there’s a lot worse you could do. It’s not an excellent film, but it is better than most have decried, if you know what not to expect going into it.
I’m going to echo a few of the comments I made earlier, this time clarifying them with specific moments pertaining to the “twists” of the film. You’ve been warned.
For those looking for a scary monster film, The Village is a “monster movie” which ends up having no traditional monsters in it at all. For me, the moment the audience is told about the costumes, I was never again even slightly frightened by them. Yes, in filming the movie we know that they’re just people in costumes, but when we find out that WITHIN the movie they are still just people in costumes, they become no longer the least bit scary. I was a bit disappointed when I first discovered this, and I can see how someone who went into this expecting it to be about the monsters could get royally pissed off, but if you know M. Night, then you know there’s something else more important going on that’s the real reason for this story to be told.
The real monsters are, in true M. Night fashion, the real people. The world that The Village resides in (or hides from) is a truly frightening place. Everyone who remembers the “outside world” has nothing but stories of murder and violence to impart. Indeed when we see M. Night’s clever cameo at the end of the film, he’s reading a newspaper with a big picture of yet another murder victim on the page. Our only glimpses of the world outside the Preserve are of a place so inhospitable that even though I was upset with the elders for intentionally frightening everyone in the village, at the end I truly wanted them to be able to maintain their separation from the outside.