Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Village

The Village
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
2004, rated PG-13
2 ½ stars

Imagine a society where the leaders control the public using fear, where red is the representative color of terror, where one is safe as long as one does not leave or question the leaders, as danger lurks just beyond the border. Sound familiar? No, this is not a political commentary by Michael Moore. This is The Village, the new film by M. Night Shyamalan, writer and director of the popular suspense films Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. While this newest film continues the level of quality storyline shown in his past work, it unfortunately lacks the general flow and suspense needed to make it a really good film.

Despite the star-studded cast, the acting in The Village is considerably wanting in merit. This is surprising, considering the cast includes such acting greats as Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix, and the Academy Award-winning Adrien Brody. Some of these actors do give a great performance, others have moments of brilliance, but some are just downright awful. Phoenix is excellent in the role of Lucius Hunt, a young man who would dare to venture out of the community’s little circle of safety and confront the abominable creatures of the forest, but who is too insecure to speak publicly without a pre-written script to read from. Phoenix carries this role well, his deadpan awkwardness sparking moments of hilarity. Although in the beginning it seems as though he should be the main character, toward the end he appears too seldom to really hold that title. Bryce Dallas Howard, as Lucius’ blind girlfriend Ivy Walker, takes over instead, and gives a decent performance in the process. Unfortunately, her character isn’t developed enough in the beginning to give her the scope and dimension she really needs to take the lead. As a result, the audience is left in doubt as to who the protagonist is, or if one even existed to begin with. The one consistently brilliant actor is Adrien Brody, as the mentally disabled Noah Percy. Brody’s performance is, as always, excellent. He submerges himself into his character so completely that it wasn’t until the credits started rolling that I even realized who it was. Sigourney Weaver, as Lucius’ mother, and William Hurt, as the main town governor Edward Walker, are immediately recognizable, however. Weaver has her moments, but is disappointing overall, though this may be due to the abysmal dialogue. Hurt, however, is just plain terrible. His acting alone may be the scariest part of the movie. While other actors do their best to make up for the obvious script problems, Hurt just flounders uncomfortably from scene to scene, unable to adapt to the wording or language which Shyamalan attempted to employ. This dialogue problem is enormous, as it dams up any flow the film might otherwise have had. Much of the time it just doesn’t seem natural or real, and the audience is left unable to be fully absorbed into the world of the film, as they should be. It’s difficult after all to be truly frightened when the monsters who are supposed to be so scary are referred to as “those we do not speak of,” conjuring distinctly un-frightening images of Harry Potter. Often the dialogue is whispered as well, and whether this is to cover up the general awkwardness of what is being said or to add some unknown effect to the film, it is utterly ineffective.

Although in his previous films Shyamalan used his cinematographic techniques to further the suspense, in this film, the cinematography is rather bland and uninteresting, and at times even choppy or clumsy. The scene changes are jumpy and uncoordinated, and as a result the film lacks cohesive flow, and seems rough and halting. Shots of random objects such as chairs or fields are spliced in haphazardly during the film, and though this may have been a vague attempt at emphasizing the bucolic lifestyle of the characters, the result is one of confusion and boredom. Shyamalan isn’t even consistent in his techniques—at one point he uses slow motion in an apparent attempt to heighten the suspense, but really achieves the opposite, and as a result it seems misplaced and even cheesy. The choice of music, like the cinematography, is unremarkable. Orchestral and symphonic, the music is entirely un-notable.

At times the film seems to be making a subliminal political statement. The use of red to represent the evil monsters of terror, and the town leaders using this fear to control the people seems to hit a little too close to current events to be coincidence. This, however, may be the only frightening thing about this film, aside from the shoddy acting, of course. So if you really enjoy being scared out of your pants, don’t expect much from this film. It takes more than this Village to raise a scream.

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