Oh, God. Deep breaths.
M Night Shyamalan! Not his real name, obviously, but that’s beside the point. M, as he shall be known for the rest of this review, is rather… infamous. He’s written, produced and directed several blockbuster movies over the past decade or so, some receiving critical and audience praise (The Sixth Sense, Signs), while others have… let’s say struggled to capture people’s imaginations (Lady in the Water and The Happening came under more critical and commercial hilarity than others). Put it this way. Do you like suspense? Do you like last-minute twists that make you rethink the entire film you’ve just watched? Do you like seeing the director making a cameo in each film he makes? Then you’ll probably love M’s stuff. Me? I’m undecided, or at least I was until I watched The Village. I coped with Unbreakable (disregarding what’s probably the most abrupt ending to a movie I’ve ever seen), and laughed most of my way through Signs, so I naturally thought this’d be good for a yuk or two.
The Village, believe it or not, centers around a village. Not any village, mind. A moral, methodical and pure society dwells here, a town thriving on simple means and simple pleasures, without a touch of corruption or lust to be found. You’d almost call these people religious, though curiously there’s very little mention of Biblical matters. In any case – the characters here are innocent and fearful, and more than a little socially awkward – in what’s basically a period piece. The main action centers around the colossal secret of ‘Those We Do Not Speak Of’, and the ‘Towns’ that apparently exits beyond the confines of the village, which is entrenched in the thickest woods I’ve seen since I last went to Epping Forest. The village elders strive to protect their community from growing rumours and ‘warnings’ given by creatures that seem to corss the border, and the movie focuses on the fear that encapsulates each and every one of its residents. Of course, one of its residents, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) requests to visit ‘The Towns’ to fetch necessary medicine – he is, naturally, denied. It’s not until he is attacked and in dire need of help that the elders reluctantly allow Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the only blind resident of the village we know of, to prepare to cross the border… and unravel the secrets of the village to us, the viewers.
It’s a very clever twist. M, as mentioned, is the undisputed king of the swerve, building up a mountain of tension before hitting you with a resolution that will make you query your own sanity. There is literally nothing within the movie that alludes to what the revelation may be until the final third of the film, which in a way is pretty satisfying – good mysteries, I reckon, are always buried deep. And, unlike a lot of mystery cinema and television, Village delivers on answering all of its questions. Well, the big ones, anyway.
I’m afraid this is the bit in the review where things stop sounding so positive. What is a clever idea is executed to such a mind-numbingly boring extent that the shock and resolutions to the story feel more like a release than a treat. This is not a story that fits almost two hours of screentime. This is, at longest, an episode of The Twilight Zone. I could be heavy-handed enough to say it’s a Goosebumps book. An hour of slow, plodding alleged suspense-building frustrates more than it intrigues, and one half wonders if we’re actually going to get any resolution from any of it. The characters are (perhaps necessarily) two-dimensional, and given the revelations, inexplicably awkward. Seriously. After watching this through, considering the implications of what the village actually is, and so forth, why are the characters so socially bereft? Timid I can understand. But, argh. It’s hard to express my gripes with this movie without going headlong into spoilers, which I said I’d never do – even though most of you will know the twist anyway – but I think the main facet of the problems lie in that it is a movie that consists of a plot built entirely around its final revelation. You may argue that this is the main facet to all mystery stories. But bear in mind, dear reader, that next to sod all actually happens throughout the film, save for people talking cautiously, or spreading vague and open-ended rumours, or simply being sodding awkward all of the time. Not even costume drama characters are this beige. This is a movie that paces around, bored, waiting for the climax to happen. Unlike other mystery dramas, there is barely any external focus other than on a slow, agonising plod towards the punchline – this can be seen point-blank in the final scene of Village (and this really isn’t a spoiler, before you start yanking my chain), which looks set to resolve its main, hanging plotline with a few further minutes of action, but chooses to do it with one line of dialogue and a cut to black. Oh, sorry, a cut to black and the words M NIGHT SHYAMALAN. Good god.
I’m perplexed, really. I love twists. More than any other device. I’ve always loved Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected. But Village is clumsy, boring and despite its admittedly great sting in the tail, pretty unmemorable. It’s handled and delivered with all the precision of someone doing brain surgery whilst wearing oven gloves. I don’t even think this is a film you could feasibly watch at ‘Bad Movie Night’, for fear of it killing the mood. And believe you me, I am by no means whatsoever tainted by critical perception of M’s work, as I’ve been exposed to it before – but regardless of who is responsible for Village, the can must be carried by the name at the top of the bill. While Village benefits from some clever direction and dialogue in keeping its resolution an absolute secret throughout, it’s messy and blinded (no pun intended) by its desperate focus on the finale. It’s as if you can hear the low murmur of omg the ending is amazing omg the ending is amazing chuntering below a screenplay which really doesn’t budge an inch.
PRO: The twist is good. Some of the acting is good. I still don’t like William “I LOVE YOU WIFE” Hurt.
CON: What is meant to be suspense exists only as tedium. Literally no plot beyond the existence of the final twist. Characters are (in my opinion) unnecessarily awkward and flat. Unmemorable.
0.5/10. Harsh? Have you seen The Village? Have you seen it? No. You really haven’t. Worse than Network. Let’s all agree on that. I need to go soak my head in bleach for the next few hours…