July 30, 2004

It Takes A Village

Okay, just came back from seeing The Village. After reading the NY Post review and a few others, I was ready for a letdown.

I'm here to tell you that the Post is all wet. I'm not sure why the negative review...I have my thoughts. The first one is that the reviewer, like some people who complained about Shyamalan's other post-Sixth Sense films, is investing too much in the idea of the "trick ending." (The second thought, I'll save for now.) When audiences focus too much on it, trying to 'figure it out', they set themselves up for a letdown if it doesn't meet their expectations. That's unfortunate, because they've essentially sacrificed the enjoyment of the story, banking on a big WOW at the end. And one thing about Shyamalan--he's a master storyteller. I've seen his films compared to The Twilight Zone, so let me go with that. Rod Serling, the creative juice behind the series, was a great writer. And he wrote a number of things besides TZ episodes. They were full of emotion, great dialogue, and realistic characters. If anyone went into one of those stories expecting another episode of The Twilight Zone, of course they're going to be disappointed. And most likely, they will fail to appreciate what might otherwise be a great tale.

Now, that's not to say that Shyamalan doesn't play to expectations; there is more to this village than meets the eye. But it doesn't take a genius to figure out just what that is. I might even be inclined to argue that the surprise wasn't meant to be so surprising if Shyamalan hadn't broke the unforgivable rule of film--he intentionally lies to his audience. I won't say when, but he obviously does it to mislead. He didn't do it in The Sixth Sense (he essentially let us mislead ourselves--he told us exactly what was going on), which was what made it great. I wish he had remembered that here.

So leave your expectations at the door if you want to enjoy this film. The cast does a particularly good job with some unconventional material. The notable exception is Adrien Brody, cast as the village idiot. He's a little too 'in your face' and I found him irritating in nearly every scene he was in. Joaquin Phoenix, who I generally don't like, was quite good. As far as the scares? Well, ask around--I generally don't get too scared during films. But I have to admit that I jumped in my seat more than once, and had the hair stand up on my arms and neck at one other point. I would venture to say that The Village is probably the scariest of Knight's (I got tired of typing Shyamalan) films, although Sixth Sense might edge it out. I'm sure I'll hear from all those people who need to feel a little more security: "I saw it, and that wasn't scary, that was stupid!" Whatever. Before you go shooting your mouth off, though, I'll ask you to do this--watch the film, then go find your nearest woods. I don't mean a couple of trees off the bike path in the park. I mean an honest-to-goodness forest, where the closest other human being is probably just a little out of screaming range. Walk around for a while. Listen to the creaking of the trees swaying, the crack of branches on the ground. Then tell me if it was scary or not.

Last thing I want to cover--this business about the film being some kind of allegory bashing the Bush administration. I'm curious to see what Knight has to say about it, but for my money, it's a bit of a stretch. There's nothing here any more allegorical than something like Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." The strokes are broad and if there is some correlation between William Hurt's Edward Walker and George (Walker) Bush, I'm not even sure that's a negative here. After all, at times in the film, Walker functions as the voice of reason, and considering the way the story ends (no, I'm not telling), the director seems to be anything but critical of him. The film lacks that harsh judgment of the characters found in other cautionary tales, like Frankenstein or Brave New World, leaving it to the viewer to decide for themselves just who the "bad guys" are.

And that's the second reason I think the Post gave the film a negative review. The reviewer found some message in the film that he didn't like and, for him, it tainted the rest of it. I tried to take it for what it was and found it to be an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.


  1. What about the COLORS, the COLORS MAN? THE COLORS!?!?! Actually, I'm probably going to go see it tomorrow. I've been waffling. (Perish the thought.) Wanted to see it despite the Post. But it got a few bad reviews elsewhere. But since YOU said to see it, I guess I have no choice.

    Then again, you told me to see a shrink a few times and I still haven't gotten around to that.

  2. Oh yeah, the colors...almost forgot. Let's see...red as a sign of danger. Well, that's something you don't see every day...excepting the entire course of human history. Oh yeah...and traffic lights. And it's not like this is new territory for Knight anyway. Anyone remember all the red used in The Sixth Sense? Red tent, red balloon, red doorknob, redrum! (Sorry, wrong horror movie kid.)

    I mean it doesn't defy reason to think that the director chose red for the same reason that the government did--it's long been associated with warnings.

    And just to be clear, I'm not saying everyone should run out and see it. This is one of those films that people are going to be really divided on. I'm just saying that I got a little bit of the heebie-jeebies, watched a well-directed film by a guy who knows how to direct films, and enjoyed myself. Take it for what it's worth.

    And Ken, about that psychiatrist thing...when I finish this mail order course, you're in big trouble, mister.

    p.s. anyone know if sociopath has a silent "e" at the end?

  3. p.p.s. I apologize for calling him Knight when I should have used Night. Apparently, I'm a homonymphobe.

  4. Anonymous1:32 AM

    "p.p.s. I apologize for calling him Knight when I should have used Night. Apparently, I'm a homonymphobe."

    That, my friend, was funny as hell... at least to English geeks like you, Kenny, and myself.