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Review: The Village (2004)

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

The Village, like its director, M Night Shyamalan, is an odd movie in the sense that it’s hard to figure out. Much like Shyamalan himself, people seem to be split on this movie. Some, like my brother Aaron, see this movie as underrated, misunderstood movie that failed in a big part due to a poor marketing campaign that promised an entirely different movie. A movie that, at its core, is a love story and a character based story driven by its emotional heft. Those people would tell you that in that sense, with the assistance of a great musical score and predictably great cinematography by Roger Deakins, The Village is a success. An imperfect movie, yes, but nowhere near the train wreck many make it out to be. Others, like. . . . well, pretty much everyone else here at Nothing But Reel Reviews, will tell you this movie is a horrific failure. And not the good kind of horrific, the bad kind. More like the horror movie that lacks any sort of suspense, thrills, or horror kind of horrific. They would tell you it’s a jumbled mess of a movie that tries to mesh genres and fails at all of them; that it has VERY few redeeming qualities, none of which have anything to do with M Night Shyamalan.

So who’s right; Aaron or the rest of The Movie Review Crew? EVERYONE is dying to know! My opinion, if you care (I hope you do. Otherwise, who is reading this), falls somewhere in the middle. I know, I know. You’re thinking that’s a cop out. Well, NO, guys, it’s not a cop out. You’re wrong. It’s called a twist ending. The TWIST being; you have to wait until the END to see which side I take. See what I did there? . . . . . Sorry. I didn’t think this would feel like an official MRC review if I didn’t throw at least one bad Michael Lucas joke in there. Speaking of awful twists, let’s dive into The Village!!!

Let’s start with an easy one. What kind of movie is this? What genre is it a part of? Well, it’s kind of a horror movie. . . but it isn’t really. . . maybe. . . I guess it COULD be called a romance movie, but it doesn’t really feel like one. . . It has a mystery in it but it’s not entirely suspenseful. . . DAMN you M Night Shyamalan!! This was supposed to be the easy one. This is a major problem with this movie and, in my opinion, part of the reason it failed to resonate with some viewers. It doesn’t have a genre. It’s a potluck of genres and none of it tastes that good! Those who were promised a horror movie were left disappointed in the movie’s lack of scares and traditional horror elements. Fans of romance movies were possibly turned off by the mystery and horror elements that interrupted the love story. Mystery fans might have been happy with the movie until Shyamalan dropped the twist ending in their laps (more on that later). Some of the elements worked well. There were great moments of horror, great moments of suspense, and great moments of romance, but in the end, Shyamalan tried to converge too many genres, too many tones and it just didn’t gel, causing issues with the pacing of the movie and causing a disconnect with a lot of the audience.

The story in The Village is a matter of over complication. It’s a simple story and a good one. At least it starts that way. It’s the story of a small village of people trying to live a simple life while maintaining a fragile co-existence with the creatures who live in the woods on the edge of the village, or as they are called in the movie, Those We Do Not Speak Of (Pretty stupid name for something they DO speak of throughout the entire movie). Simple enough story, right? And while it simple, I think it remains effective. Shyamalan excels at taking simple stories and squeezing all the emotional impact out of those stories by using the characters within those stories to connect with the audience (see The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable).

Unfortunately, what Shyamalan ALSO excels at, or so he believes, is twist endings (see EVERY one of his movies) and The Village is no different. Shyamalan can’t help himself. He MUST put a twist in this movie, which makes him over complicate the story. Thanks to the twist, nothing is as it seems. From the location of the village, to the towns beyond the woods, to Those They Speak Of All The Time, nothing that Shyamalan spends time establishing for the first hour to hour and a half of the movie is what it seems. Now, I’m not trying to take a dump on twist endings. When they are done right, there’s nothing better. When a twist completely discredits the entire movie before it, there is NOTHING worse. It makes the hour and a half spent watching the movie before the twist feel like a complete waste of a time, and that’s EXACTLY what this movies does. The twist is AWFUL. I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen the movie but it is bad on the same level as “it was all a dream”. A good movie with a twist presents clues throughout the movie that, many times, the viewer doesn’t even catch until the big twist. Then we think, “Man that is GENIUS! It all makes sense. How did I not see that coming? Good one, movie. You tricked me and I respect you more for it.” A bad twist, like the one in this movie, is presented merely for shock value. It is some silly Looney Tunes nonsense that comes out of nowhere, giving no clues to the audience and no possible way for them to have seen it coming. Then we have no choice but to hate the movie because we try to call it on it’s nonsense and it just sticks it’s stupid movie nose in the air and acts like it outsmarted us when we all KNOW it cheated! You hear that The Village? You are a cheater. I can see how the twist alone can make people completely hate this movie.

Alright, let’s take a break from the hate and discuss what this movie does right, starting with the acting. This movie has an AMAZING cast and pretty much every one of them shines in this movie, regardless of the size of their role. If there is one thing that REALLY works in this movie, it is the love story, the developing relationship between Bryce Dallas-Howard’s Ivy Walker and Joaquin Phoenix’s Lucius Hunt. Both actors excel in their roles and make the relationship seem real. This relationship drives the movie, in many ways it is the sole purpose of the movie, and the only way audiences can care about the story is if they care about these characters. Because of their great acting, I DID. All of the adult characters play their roles pretty well too. The standout among these is the underrated William Hurt as Ivy’s father, Edward Walker (I still think there was a missed opportunity to have Paul Walker play Ivy’s brother Paul Walker). Hurt’s character is the reason for the plot twists in the movie and the only reason those big revelations seem even halfway plausible is Hurt’s ability to make his character, and all of his actions, believable.

Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Edward Walker (William Hurt)

The visuals on the screen also stand out in this movie. This isn’t surprising since, as I mentioned above, the cinematographer is THIRTEEN time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins. If you aren’t familiar with his work, make yourself familiar with it. He makes every movie he does look spectacular even if the movies themselves. . . . well, aren’t (*cough* The Village). He deserves his nominations and, as far as I’m concerned, he should have thirteen wins instead of nominations. Regardless of anyone’s thoughts on this movie as a whole, I don’t believe any reasonable person could argue that it doesn’t look amazing.

Ivy's encounter with the "creature" is one example of Deakins' beautiful cinemetography.

And now I have to say it. Here goes. . . . don’t judge. . . . I think M Night Shyamalan is a pretty damn good director. There! It’s out there. You hate me now, don’t you?. . . Oh well, I’ll live. Seriously though. Despite his recent track record, I still do believe he has talent. Watch his movies from The Sixth Sense through The Village. Shyamalan is a unique director. He isn’t some studio “yes man” hack, and he isn’t some new face fresh off of filming music videos with a penchant for shaky camera work and an over reliance on quick cuts. Shyamalan knows exactly what he wants to show the audience and he does that through slow controlled camera work, somewhat similar to Stanley Kubrick, though nobody will be putting them in the same class of talent any time soon. My point is, Shyamalan gets a lot of slack for his later movies, either all the movies after The Village, or including The Village on depending on one’s thoughts on this movie. Much of that is deserved. He has made some TERRIBLE movies. However, even in many of those awful movies, the camera work is pretty great and talent doesn’t just disappear. The man who directed The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs is still around. Has he made some awful decisions on what movies to direct? Absolutely! Do his shortcomings as a writer, including his addiction to twist endings, hurt many of his movies? HELL YES! Does he still have an eye for camera work and the ability to build an atmosphere of tension with that camera work? I believe so. And I believe that, given time, the old M Night Shyamalan will resurface and we will be treated to more masterpieces like his early work. Or maybe I’m way off and we’ll just get more turds like Lady In The Water. Only time will tell.

Deakins and Shyamalan on the set of The Village

So now the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The one thing you have wanted more than anything ever before. . . . a final answer to end the most important debate in the history of ever. . . Is The Village an awful movie, the beginning of the downfall of M Night Shyamalan, or is it a well made misunderstood movie, the last good film from M Night Shyamalan before his career jumped the tracks? Well, as frustrating as the flaws of this movie are, and there are some MAJOR flaws with this movie, I can’t help but find myself siding with my brother, Aaron, over the other members of The Movie Review Crew. Let me explain. What is the main objective of any movie? To make the audience feel. Feel something. Feel ANYTHING. Whether it’s an action movie trying to get your heart pounding or a horror movie trying to make you lose sleep at night, the single most important goal of a movie is to make a lasting impression on the audience by having an emotional impact on them in some way or another. Despite the many holes in the story, despite the poor attempt at meshing multiple genres, and despite one of the silliest plot twists I’ve ever seen, Aaron is right. If you look at this movie with the right mindset, if you go into it expecting and looking for a well told love story, this is a tremendous movie that WILL resonate with you emotionally. The great acting all around, the beautiful visuals, and the perfect soundtrack combine to somehow rise above the frustrating and glaring flaws of the movie to have an impact on the movie.

RATING: 6 out of 10 (B-)

So there you have it. Aaron is right. . . . or maybe he’s wrong, and I’m just the dummy who’s choosing to go down with him. The point is there is no final answer. There is no right or wrong. That’s not how the world works and that’s not how movies work (ESPECIALLY this one). I didn’t write this to make up your mind, merely to present an opinion and discuss some points that might help you form your own opinion. So, do me a favor; Read this, listen to the podcast on The Village with me and the rest of the guys at The Movie Review Crew, form your own opinion of the movie (This one AND all the movies going forward), and let us know what you think. Tell me I’m right, tell me I’m wrong, tell me I suck and you hate me. Whatever your opinion, I would like to hear it. Thanks for reading!

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