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Culture Reviews
The Village /By M. Night Shyamalan/
Dome Cinema 
By Ryan Macalino
I recall reading the review on CNN.com about this movie when it came out stateside. The reviewer called it “Shyamalan’s best film yet, demanding repeated viewings…” After seeing the movie, I feel just as strongly as this reviewer, but just in the opposite direction. “The Village” is M. Night Shyamalan’s absolute worst film to date, and if this movie doesn’t prove that he’s Hollywood’s biggest hack, I can’t wait to miss his next one.

This movie is basically an exercise of overindulgence for Shyamalan. He’s gotten so used to critics comparing him to Hitchcock that he probably believes it. He’s also watched enough Twilight Zone episodes to mine a lifetime of stories to rehash. Add to this his patented use of ‘the twist’, and you have a guy who’s making the same kind of movie over and over again, but using a different b-movie storyline.

This time around, the story is about an Amish-like community in a small village in what seems to be the 1800’s. The village is completely enclosed by a forest, wherein deadly creatures are said to inhabit. There is an apparent truce between the village and the woods, where one party cannot enter the others’ territory. What we then have is a delicate sort of ‘caged utopia’, which stays this way until it appears that the truce is broken.

The relationship between Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) and Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) is what drives the plot of the movie, as it seems to serve the love story while everything else – creatures, village, town, politics – stays in the background. The two actors are complemented by a stellar ensemble featuring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and Adrien Brody, who only really play supporting roles. Phoenix really shines in his role as the silent hero, a role that was written for him. It’s easily his best performance since Cassius in “Gladiator”. Howard is also adequate in her feature film debut, although the attention she’s receiving is more likely due to her Hollywood parentage (her father is mogul Ron Howard).

It’s amazing to see such star power go to waste. In every line of dialogue in the movie, in every shot and every scene, Shyamalan is all-too-eager to show the viewer that this movie is his and his alone – attempting to duplicate the auteur impulses of none other than Alfred Hitchcock. However, old Hitch’s techniques were designed to be a revelation in filmmaking; Shyamalan’s are designed to fuel his ego. On the other hand, his egotism is only outshone by his audacity. Whereas Hitchcock’s cameos were modest, this time around Shyamalan even uses a series of carefully designed glamour shots to expose himself in the most ‘discreet’ way possible.

In 95 percent of the film, Shyamalan revels in excess: crane shots, bombastic music, smoke and fog lighting, and loud effects for cheap thrills. This guy takes himself way too seriously. In what is a painfully long exercise in showing off, he even gives us 3 (!) twists this time around. The first is the one you see from miles away, the second is a tired rehash straight out of Star Trek, and the third and final one busts open the doors of absurdity by trying to milk tears from tired and bored eyes. The movie stays flat throughout. I was told once that the worst a story can ever end with is “and it was all but a dream”. In this case I wish it were.

In fact, there are many inconsistencies throughout the movie that even the hackneyed twists couldn’t answer. If I were allowed to give spoilers, I would love to address each and every single one of them, for this movie can then be taken as a comedy. In Shyamalan’s defense though, there was one good scene in the film. It involves a meeting of the characters played by Phoenix and Brody; a very powerful scene, reminiscent of one in “Saving Private Ryan”.

But that is pretty much it for the 5 percent that’s worth watching. He is no Hitchcock. I read somewhere that this ‘caged utopia’ village is actually an allegory to Bush’s America during his War on Terror. I think this is giving too much credit to Shyamalan. He’s not even Michael Moore. His “Sixth Sense” was excellent, but it seems as though his movies are getting progressively worse. His next outing shouldn’t be that bad though. Hell, I’ll probable even see it. After all, it can’t probably get any worse than this.

07.10.04
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