The Village revisited

There are major spoilers, such as the reveal, given away in this review. You have been warned.

Yes folks, you read that right, I voluntarily watched M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” again.

And I have to say that the ending is just as hackneyed and unbelievable as it was the first time around. But damn if the rest of the movie (say, the first hour and 15 minutes or so) is still as compelling as it was then.

To sum up the story in a paragraph, the village is Covington, a valley surrounded my woods. The woods are inhabited by “Those We Don’t Speak Of,” and the villagers have a truce with ‘Those’ to stick to their own territory. In this setting, we meet Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the daughter of the head elder (William Hurt), who is blind and a tomboy, and is friends with both Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), the quiet man, and Noah (Adrien Brody), the village fool. But something’s not quite right here; the village has of late been under siege from ‘Those;’ skinned animals keep showing up, and a raiding party hits the village at night. But well, it’s more of the same for them, until an event occurs that forces Ivy on a mission through the woods, and she uncovers some terrible truths about the village.

“The Village” kind of sums up for me what’s I’ve always thought about Shyamalan’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer and a director. As a writer, he’s something of a hack, even if I think “The Village” is one of his better efforts; his language is always stiff and unnatural (the time period helps him out here a lot), and he’s addicted to twist endings (a plot device I got tired of before he came on the scene).

As a director, he has moments of extraordinary beauty and daring that make me excited to see his films (example: in “The Village,” when Ivy is standing on the porch and waiting for Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) to grab her hand is one of the most breathtaking things I’ve ever seen). But those moments are often coupled with horribly clichd shots that first year film students would not do (example: in “The Village,” when Ivy is in the woods, the camera pans to her behind a tree, then pans back to see … a monster standing behind her. Ugh.).

It’s so frustrating to defend him because I know that he has the talent to make better movies, and he’s so close here. The performances are all on the mark (he does tend to elicit outstanding performances), and the score is a classic (and this is coming from someone who almost never notices the music). Everything in “The Village,” up until that reveal, kept me involved and caring what happened, but endings are the most important part of a movie for me, and his failed. Utterly.

When I first saw “The Village” in the theater, I guessed what the twist would be; right before William Hurt opens the box, I thought to myself “Wouldn’t it be funny if modern stuff was in there?” It wasn’t funny. Turns out, there’s nothing funny about wasted potential, in Shyamalan or his movies.

“The Village” (2004)

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard (Ivy)

Joaquin Phoenix (Lucius)

Adrien Brody (Noah)