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No Surprises, Please

 

The Village

M. Night Shyamalan, USA, 2004

Rating: 2.0

 

Posted: August 2, 2004

By Laurence Station & Clemenza

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village involves a community of people living in a valley encircled by woods. The village elders have come to an agreement with mysterious creatures living in the woods that neither will invade the others' property. The villagers, however, have need of medical provisions and must send someone through the forbidden woods to some outlying towns -- and thus, conflict ensues. In need of a review, we dispatched Laurence Station and Clemenza to an outlying movie theater. This is their report.

Station: So, Clemenza, after coordinating with your parole officer to grant you a little free time, we went and saw M. Night Shyamalan's highly anticipated new film, The Village. What did you think?

Clemenza: What did I think? For the first time I can recall, I wanted to hurt the makers of a film; I mean, I really wanted to bring physical harm to M. Night Shyamalan. He just robbed me, plain and simple. Nothing but false advertising. My time, my will to live, has been diminished. I can't get that time back, Station. EVER!

Station: What was it, exactly, about the film that stirred such urges of violence against the director? Was it the leisurely pace? The fact that an esteemed group of actors (including William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Adrien Brody) were forced to speak stiff, anachronistic dialogue that the surprise ending potentially justifies? Or was it the head-scratching twist at the end?

Clemenza: The twist! Damn! See, that's the thing with this dude. The obligatory twist. The Sixth Sense, it turns out Bruce Willis is dead. Wow! Unbreakable, Bruce Willis is a superhero. Zounds! Signs was the exception, that was actually pretty solid. But this... this. I have no words. The ads promised scary creatures in the woods. There were none. That's just wrong, a violation of the highest order. That's my major beef. Promise me a monster suspense film and it ends up being a third-rate Scooby-Doo episode.

Station: Okay. Before going any further, readers should be warned that certain inferences regarding The Village's Big Secret will be touched on in order to discuss the film and whether or not it achieves what it set out to accomplish. Your "Scooby-Doo" reference, while rudimentary, is rather apt. Yes, it's true; there are no "monsters" in the traditional sense. But, that being the case, doesn't Shyamalan deserve credit for fabricating an illusion rather than having a reality that is much harder to justify? For example, in Signs, he hints at aliens and then actually introduces a full scale, War of the Worlds-like invasion by hostile extraterrestrials. That opens up a whole can of logistical worms (the most glaring being, why would invaders with a weakness for water invade a world that's comprised of three-quarters water?). The Village inverts this idea. There is no big bad wolf lurking in the woods; it's all a grand drama to fool the inhabitants. Isn't that more daring?

Clemenza: No. It blows. First of all, in Signs, he did a great job of showing a global threat and then shrinking it down to one family's perspective of it. Why did the aliens choose to invade a place with so much water? That's easy. You ever run low on gas and stop to get some in a neighborhood you probably shouldn't be in? Really, man, I wish that was the only problem to deal with here.

It comes back to what I've said all along: I can see disturbed people in real life. I live the struggle of the human animal every day. When I go to the movies, show me something new, something I can't see in real life, like a sober Irishman or a cool monster. Is that too much to ask? And then, when you tell me there's gonna be a monster, and there ain't no monster, you end up watching a film that you wouldn't have otherwise watched even at gunpoint. No, it is not more daring. What is daring is to make a rock-solid monster movie. That would take actual cojones.

Station: Fine. Your biggest issue with The Village is that it ultimately lacked anything supernatural or fantastic. What did work for you? I personally felt Roger Deakins photography was suitably moody and evocative and Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director Ron) did a fine job.

Clemenza: Geez. You're missing the point. The promise of something supernatural or fantastic was the whole reason for being there. Did you not, on some level in your tragically hip psyche, feel robbed? What worked? The movie that should have been made would have worked. All that was missing in the final credits was a picture of Night laughing, shooting me the bird! The disappointment overshadowed some pretty good performances, but man, after it was over, I was so hollow, unable to take anything positive away from the experience.

Station: But surely Shyamalan wouldn't intentionally thwart the expectations of his loyal audience (one of which, especially after Signs, was you)? Perhaps the pressure of having to "one-up" his previous "Gotcha!" endings pushed him into a corner. Made him realize that he didn't have to rely on aliens, ghosts, or men with superhuman powers to craft an engrossing, thought provoking narrative about a group of people who've chosen a way of life antithetical to the societal norm. Surely, even you can appreciate the confidence he showed in taking this unexpected detour.

Clemenza: Sure. Absolutely. And if it had been promoted that way, it would have been fine. Let me ask the questions here, defender of the indefensible: Every time you read about or saw a commercial for The Village, what was the most hyped aspect of it?

Station: The relationship between the villagers and the creatures in the woods; the agreement not to bother one another.

Clemenza: Exactly! Creatures in the woods. Now, were there any creatures in the woods?

Station: No. But, perhaps the "creatures" were meant to symbolize humanity's struggle with nature and the unknown. We seek to tame the wild and erect boundaries against it, as opposed to animals and plants that have no knowledge or respect for such barriers. Perhaps Shyamalan is using The Village to tap into the spirit of the first settlers from Europe, and how frightening it must have been at night to hear odd sounds and worry about strange animals invading what these people had worked so hard to build. Ultimately, isn't Shyamalan championing a distinctly American, can-do spirit?

Clemenza: Yes, well, what I have learned from your response is that you're a cabbagehead who won't admit he got robbed. Just say it! What Night is doing is called the privilege of the popular. He can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants. Stop looking for what isn't there!

As a suspense film in the Hitchcock vein, yeah, it's wonderful. But this is like ordering a pizza, and having a wooden spoonful of gruel brought to your door. Is gruel without its charms? No. But if you advertised pizza, and that's what I thought I was ordering, then GIMME THE DAMN PIZZA -- especially the kind with all the meats!

Station: So what you're suggesting is that Shyamalan deserves to be held hostage by his audience -- creatively stifled. What if Spielberg had been held to the same limited standard after his success with Jaws? We'd have Attack of the Dolphins and Fins of Doom, but we'd never get Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. or Saving Private Ryan. It seems pretty obvious Shyamalan isn't going to be held in the tiny "gimme a monster movie" box you want to lock him into. Sorry, but Shyamalan, to paraphrase from your personal anthem, just wants to break free.

Clemenza: Easy, pantywaist. First of all, If Spielberg made an Indiana Jones film where Indy just sat in his house and looked at his mail, then I dare say, Spielberg wouldn't have gotten much further as a filmmaker, because no one in their right mind would have ever again given him money to make another movie.

What can I say about your analogy that has not already been said about your wardrobe? It is just wrong and ill-conceived. Spielberg visited different genres, but delivered the goods in those genres -- what your kind would dismiss as the "gimme a monster" approach. A good filmmaker can easily branch out into several genres. If it's comedy, then make me laugh! If it's a monster movie, then yes Mr. Pseudo-Intellectual, gimme a monster! You see, Station, it's this mentality that got your head thrust down more than one toilet in high school, I'm guessing.

Station: Calm down, friend. No need for a parole violation. I will concede that while I admire Shyamalan for not relying on an otherworldly explanation this time out, his real-world justification for the village's existence is quite implausible and, to be honest, bordering on the criminal in a David Koresh-lording-over-his-followers kind of way. Your lack-of-monsters grievance aside, what did you make of his Big Revelation?

Clemenza: I saw it coming! Who could not? "Hey, look it's a village, but it's not a village!" Outrageous! It was just disturbing. These people needlessly went without toothpaste, toilet paper, or suitable pornography for no good reason. There was some mention of the "ceremony of meat," but that turned out to be some kind of formal dining thing. These people were freaks, and I was totally unsympathetic to them all. If they had had balls, they would have formed a vigilante group and fixed the ills of the outside world so they could have stayed there and not retreated to the wilderness to live in peace -- while surrounded by horrible "monsters" waiting to mutilate them if they ever tried to leave. It's just weak!

Station: Crude, but effectively stated. If Shyamalan thinks that the way to solve society's problems is to run away from them, then civilization is in big trouble. Of course, his other point may have been that no matter how hard a group tries to evade or suppress violence, pride and jealously, it's impossible to dodge human nature. Unfortunately, his setting was far too contrived to effectively convey these points. In the end, The Village is a place not worth visiting. Any final thoughts?

Clemenza: I want you to say you were robbed. Say M. Night robbed me. Say it!!

[Grappling; strangling Station] SAY IT!!!

Station: [Choking] Security!

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