Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: The Village (Giving it a second chance)

History: In proper Shyamalan fashion, The Village's production was kept under tight secrecy. This is because he was known for twist endings, so revealing too much ahead of time could spoil the movie before it's release. Despite tight measures the film's script was stolen and leaked a year before release. When the movie came out the ending was different than the one in the script. Whether it was changed because it was stolen or for creative reasons is all speculative of course.

Once released it received mixed reviews, most of which were negative. In recent years it has picked up a more positive look and even has a cult following by Shyamalan fans. Even though it wasn't a critical success it was a financial success raking in $256 million worldwide on a $60 million budget.
After release Shyamalan was accused of plagiarism. There are a striking number of similarities between The Village and the 1995 novel Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix. These key points are connected to the movie's ending so I won't talk about it here. At one point Haddix threatened to sue Shyamalan, but Shyamalan wrote off the similarities as "meritless." As far as I know it didn't go any further than that.

Personal History: Saw this only once before, in college, and I missed the first ten or fifteen minutes cause I walked into that movie night late. I don't remember how I felt but it must have been pretty middle ground. I don't remember loving it and I don't remember hating it. Matter of fact I don't remember it much at all.

Version I Watched: Netflix instant streaming.

Review: Back in Shyamalan's heyday of popularity I was definitely a fan. I really liked The Sixth Sense, loved Unbreakable even more, and even enjoyed Signs for a while (not so much anymore.) Like everyone else I lost interest as his movies got worse and worse. I'm no longer excited when he comes out with movies, though, because of how bad they've become. Like he used up all his good ideas right away and now is trying to get by with the few he has left.
Since The Village was right after Signs I was on board after seeing the trailer, knowing what came before it. It came and went, never saw it in theatres. As I stated in the 'personal history' section I didn't see it til college (about 3 years after it came out) and even then I wouldn't call it a proper screening.

So why now? Well it showed up in my Netflix recommendations recently and I decided to give it another go. Seeing as this was when Shyamalan was on his way downhill... but hadn't hit rock bottom quite yet... I felt it could have some redeeming values.

Before I continue I think it should be said this will be a spoiler filled review. If you haven't seen the movie and want to be surprised then you should probably turn around now.

Let's talk concept first. If there's anything I've always loved about The Village it's the concept.
The story is set in a late 1800's village in a remote area surrounded by woods. In those woods live a group of "those we do not speak of" who they have a truce with. They follow a simple set of rules and the creatures don't bother them. Slowly throughout the story the truce appears to fall apart, causing a scare within the village, especially when a key character is on the edge of death and one of them has to venture through the woods to get medicine.
The unseen evil is one of the scariest things in the world to me. Knowing something out there either wants to hurt you or wants you dead, yet you know so little about them so you have no way of defending yourself, is flat out terrifying. This is somewhat well executed early in the story when we only get brief glimpses of the creatures from around a corner or hear their roars. Makes for a great atmosphere in a world full of the scared and defenseless.

Sadly this element isn't as strong as it could be. As good as Shyamalan is/was at coming up with cool concepts and clever twists, his movies aren't particularly well written, nor do they convey the tone I think he wants them to.
Not only is it the writing but it's the directing he gives and the editing around those scenes. Some scenes he puts together are really engaging, while using some innovative ideas for the time. Everything else, though, can be incredibly clunky, awkward, and sometimes goofy. Best example here is when a young woman of the village (Kitty, played by Judy Greer) expresses her love to the man she wants to marry (Lucius, played by Joaquin Pheonix.) The dialogue is so bad. Like she's rambling. Then the face Joaquin makes when it cuts back to him is very "bwaaaahhh?!?!" and comical. It's a very poorly put together scene and this is not the only example of it.
A shame since many other parts of the movie are quite well done, only to be damaged or ruined by this poor execution of filmmaking.

When Shyamalan isn't screwing up another scene he is setting a good tone with some good chills. Not as scary or over the top spooky the like the trailer implies it would be, but some good tension none the less. Not to mention some nice twists and turns before the actual twist at the end.
The horror of the bell warning the village "those we do not speak of" are coming, almost never seeing these creatures until the end, not knowing what they're capable of, it all conveys a great tone I really enjoyed. And personally I think the tone here is the strongest of all Shyamalan movies. Not something I can 100% accurately rate, but I have re-watched some of his movies in recent months and definitely wasn't as engaged as I was here.

Alright, alright, I think it's time to get to the ending, because that's why most people would be reading this review.

To bring you up to speed/remind you of the context of the ending.
Noah, played by Adrien Brody, with a performance I can't decide is stupid or brilliant, stabs Lucius because he's jealous that Lucius and Ivy (played by the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard) are falling in love. With Noah kept under tight wraps Lucius is on the edge of death and someone needs to travel through the forbidden woods to another town to get medicine.
Now this isn't revealed immediately but before Ivy leaves she's told "those we do not speak of" weren't real monsters, but the leaders of the village dressed up in costumes and used it to inflict fear and keep order. Only part of the twist ending as a whole.
As the movie finishes not only do we find out the monsters are fake, but also that they're not living in the 1800's. The village was made by a group of people tired of the real world so they went to an isolated wooded area to start over in a simpler time and lived their long enough to raise and convince all the young people that it isn't 2000-whatever.
A tradition the older residence plan to pass forward to a select few when they become old enough. Ivy and Lucius being first in line.

My thoughts on this ending are mixed because of how it is handled.

The problem here is I felt Shyamalan was trying to cram too many twists into the ending when there were already elements of a good twist there. It doesn't have to bring the house down every single time, man, something you would poorly learn in The Happening ("There are forces at work beyond our understanding.")
Having the twist be it was a ruse all along would have been fine. Not great, but fine if pretty dark. Like the leaders have a crazy power trip over controlling the village. But to add to that, they mention the creatures were based on legends. What if they said the creatures were a ruse, but then the actual creature they based their's on turned out to be real! That would have been better than the unnecessary addition of Noah escaping and attacking Ivy in the monster suit while she travels through the woods. It almost hints there's some sort of reality to the monsters but falls flat and is uninteresting because we already know the truth.

Then the fact it takes place in modern times. Again, it was kinda cool it turned out this way but was a jumbled mess to get there. It was so clumsily explained, like when Shyamalan makes his cameo and references planes being restricted from going over that wooded area. What I would have liked more is if it was a similar twist, but the leaders of the village didn't know about the 'beasts' when they moved in, giving them their own mystery of it they're real or not, potentially being tricked by an outside force.
In the end even my preferred twist if kept modern is about as convoluted as the actual ending.

At the end of the day the biggest twist was how much I enjoyed it. I was surprised I got as into it as I did when most of Shyamalan's work doesn't age well or is generally seen as crap from the start. I seriously was engaged for the most part. The story, acting, and so forth have problems that stick out like a sore thumb, but the experience as a whole was satisfying.
I can understand why this has a cult following now among Shyamalan fans. Will likely go down as his most underrated movie. I guess it's now time for me to revisit more of his work to see how well it stands up for me. I haven't seen since Unbreakable since college... not sure if I want to break my positive memories of that one, though...

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