Film Reviews


By • Jul 30th, 2004 •

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Buena Vista Pictures
Touchstone Pictures presents a Blinding Edge Pictures/Scott Rudin production
MPAA rating: PG-13 / Running time — 107 minutes

QUOTE: Spoiler Right Here: Ben Stiller is in the woods.

The exploitation of M. Night Shyamalan began some weeks ago. The PR drums began to loudly beat. M. Night is everywhere. He’s even doing a layout for Vogue magazine. There’s a rumor he got an offer to pose for Playboy. I watched 30 minutes of the Sci Fi Channel’s three-hour documentary called “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan.” It was a lousy, poorly made, unimaginative rip-off of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. First clues of a hoax: Audio technical problems (it’s an amateur production) and all the weird fans outside M. Night’s gated compound wore hoods (just like in THE VILLAGE trailers). Then there was the world exclusive “In The Director’s Chair with M. Night Shyamalan” held at 41 Regal Cinema theaters on July 20th. Hosted by Good Morning America’s fawning Joel Siegel, the event also included questions from all over the country. Attendees, paying $10 each, were able to watch the director talk about his craft and see an exclusive film clip for his upcoming thriller THE VILLAGE. Free T-shirts and a free pass for 2 to the promotional pre-opening screening of the movie made this a good deal. Regal Cinema, do this again!

Let me say, while I was prepared to rage against too much Shyamalan, M. Night was so self-effacing, disarmingly frank, and downright charming, that all my “He’s part of my repertoire of nightmares! Go home!” tirade limped away.

However, the clip he chose to show of THE VILLAGE was a drippy bore. Too much publicity, even though it heightens the public’s awareness, tends to telegraph trouble.

Now, before reviewing the movie, I must discuss the PR regarding an “unknown” actress named Bryce Dallas Howard. No one in the movie industry knew she was the daughter of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood – Ron Howard. (Does this mean that someday Max Spielberg is going to have to send out his head shots to get movie work?) Entertainment Weekly reported that the day Shyamalan offered Howard the role, she had made an appointment at a temp agency, even though she was appearing on the New York stage in a production of “As You Like It.” Apparently, Mr. Howard has not done a thing to help his daughter. Bryce, if you ever need a place to stay in Las Vegas, email me. We have a guest room.

THE VILLAGE is slow-moving and intentionally disconnects the audience from the actors and the events that are unfolding. The ending came as a total surprise to me. So, if the twist is what makes a Shyamalan movie work, then THE VILLAGE delivers the goods. But the underlying message is unacceptable and cruel to me.

Shyamalan returns to a style of filmmaking that modern audiences are not used to. No close-ups. The first half hour of the movie we never actually see William Hurt’s face. Many scenes are filmed with the actors’ backs to the audience. What’s up with this? With such competent, expressive actors onboard, and Howard doing an exceptional job with a tough role, why keep the camera off their faces?

I was never truly engaged in the characters.

It is 1897 and a group of hard-working farmers have built a prosperous village surrounded by a dense forest. Somewhere in the distance is “the towns” where people are murdered and evil lurks. The elders are led by Edward Walker (William Hurt). Soon we hear about the oppressive rules that shackle the people to their village: Nightly watches for the “creatures” that live in the woods, the color red is not allowed, fires must blaze all night, a fence surrounds the village, weird “creature” noises haunt their sweet existence, and they must wear the color yellow. No one is allowed out of the village or the “creatures” will eat them. Sometimes, the “creatures” get mad if someone trespasses or does something wrong. Farm animals are viciously slaughtered and skinned. A villager must
confess to the council if any rules are broken.

The poor village is held hostage by some weird creatures they are not even allowed to talk about. It is oppressive and that is why we never see Elder Walker’s face.

Elder Walker’s youngest daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) is blind and infatuated with quiet, intensely stoic Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix). When another elder’s brother dies, Lucius boldly offers to go through the woods to “the towns” to get medicine to help villagers in the future. The entire village is horrified and the council rejects the offer. Lucius’ mother, Alice (Sigourney Weaver), is interested in the widower Walker, but proprietary keeps their affection for each other chaste.

Feisty Ivy has “adopted” the village idiot Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) who becomes jealous when Ivy’s interest in Lucius is revealed. For some reason, whenever anything joyous happens in the village, like a wedding, the truce between the villagers and the creatures erupts. It is up to blind Ivy to venture into the forest to make things right and become a part of the council’s dark secrets.

Other people have died without medicine, but now that Walker’s daughter wants to go fetch some, the rules are waived. No matter what laws are imposed on a community, a pecking order prevails.

Howard doesn’t play blind. Ivy is the most competent girl in the village. She doesn’t have that common glaze of blind people and she is not catered to because of her affliction. Brody takes his small role and brings a bit of playful nastiness to being the village simpleton. Phoenix is steadfast but will never surpass his brilliant performance in GLADIATOR. I cannot comment on Hurt’s performance since he did all his acting in side profile.

What made THE SIXTH SENSE so remarkable was that when you saw it again the pieces fit elegantly into place. There was no cheating. Here, there are so many holes in logic that it is a disappointment.

Did Shyamalan really want us to hate the elders and the lies they have imposed on the village young? While the twists and turns are clever, the resolution is troubling. Secrets remain in place and, if Shyamalan is making a commentary on the “opiate of the masses,” he has succeeded.

Lucius Hunt: Joaquin Phoenix
Noah Percy: Adrien Brody
Ivy Walker: Bryce Dallas Howard
Edward Walker: William Hurt
Alice Hunt: Sigourney Weaver
August Nicholson: Brendan Gleeson

Writer-director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producers: Scott Rudin, Sam Mercer, M. Night Shyamalan
Director of photography: Roger Deakins
Production designer: Tom Foden
Music: James Newton Howard
Costume designer: Ann Roth
Editor: Christopher Tellefsen

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