The Village (2004)

*. I wonder how much M. Night Shyamalan’s trademark — the twist ending — has damaged his career. It obviously didn’t hurt him with The Sixth Sense, since it wasn’t a trademark yet and that movie basically launched his career. But ever since . . .
*. I don’t think it helps him at all here. This is for two reasons. As with all his movies, since you know the twist is coming you spend all your time thinking about it, and when it comes it’s inevitably a disappointment after so much build up.
*. In the second place, the ending distorts the movie itself. Everything is sacrificed to concealing the big reveal, to the point where the movie has no other purpose.
*. This really struck me when watching The Village. I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been a more interesting movie without all the misdirection and if it had dealt directly with the elders and their desire to exile themselves from modernity and all its attendant suffering. John Hurt and Sigourney Weaver seem so much more interesting than Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard — both as actors and in character.

*. I don’t think Shyamalan is a bad filmmaker, not at all, but he’s taking a really simple idea here and stretching it a long, long way. The ending only comes as a surprise, in so far as it does, because the premise is so bizarre.
*. Even if we grant the elders their plan, why go back to the nineteenth century? I mean, a sustainable, isolated community would no doubt have to be quite primitive, but is there any need for the period costumes and formal speech? How is all this reclaiming a state of innocence? It seems more like they’re putting on some kind of reality show. Personally, I’d be happy to live in a small community without access to the Internet.

*. You could pull the premise apart in a hundred ways but I’m not sure it’s worth it. Roger Ebert, who wrote a scathing review, makes the most telling point: “Critics were enjoined after the screening to avoid revealing the plot secrets. That is not because we would spoil the movie for you. It’s because if you knew them, you wouldn’t want to go.”
*. It’s a good-looking movie, very nicely photographed by Roger Deakins. I liked most of the design elements, including the monster costumes. The cast is terrific, with only Phoenix seeming out of place. And yet it all seems in aid of so little. The movie makes a shift from Lucius to Ivy part-way through, but as I said earlier the most interesting characters are the elders. They are the ones who have the major emotional arc to travel. Something might have been done with what is revealed to Ivy at the end, but that is left up for grabs. Misdirection is one thing, but The Village only leads us to a dead end.

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