Thursday, August 23, 2012


Don't Give A Damn About My Bad Reputation is a feature I've wanted to do for some time. Basically, I will be taking a look at films that have really bad reputations, and giving my opinion on if they were judged too harshly (or if they really are just dog shit).

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

It may be hard to believe now that his name has sort of become a joke, but there was a time when M. Night Shyamalan was on top of the world.

After The Sixth Sense, audiences and critics were madly in love with this man with the hard to pronounce name. He was on a pretty damn good run too, with pretty much all of his films following The Sixth Sense being well regarded and making good coin at the box office.

Then came The Village.

The Village was the beginning of the end for Shyamalan. He followed it with the abysmal Lady in the Water, and then The Happening, where killer trees make people kill themselves. I have a soft spot in my heart for The Happening, just because it's so bat-shit insane that I refuse to believe he was being serious when he made the film. I like to think of it as a big-budget version of Birdemic.

But back to The Village. As was the case with all of Shyamalan's films at the time, The Village had a lot of hype built around it. The marketing for the film made it look like it was going to be straight-up horror. Cast member Sigourney Weaver was quoted as saying after she read the screenplay she had nightmares. People were excited for the film.

And then it came out and people more or less took a big shit on it.

So what's the deal with The Village? Is it really a big old mess, or did it get unfairly maligned?

The film is set in a small village, seemingly cut off from the world, during an undisclosed time in the past. The village is surrounded by ominous woods, and the town elders warn people to never cross the barrier into those woods. For you see, spooky creatures called Those We Don't Speak Of lurk there. The village has a truce with them--they don't come into the village as long as the villagers stay out of their woods.

Everyone seems to live in peace and tranquility--until animals start turning up dead and skinned, and the creatures start coming into the town late at night and giving everyone the creeps.

Nestled into this plot is the story of Ivy, played wonderfully by Bryce Dallas Howard. Ivy is blind, but she possesses the ability to see people's "colors" (or auras, if you will.) Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) has a big crush on Ivy. So does the mentally handicapped Noah (Adrien Brody, who is fantastic at playing these type of characters).

As the story unfolds, Lucius is badly wounded, and the only hope of saving him is to retrieve "medicines" from the world beyond the woods. It's up to Ivy to set off to retrieve them, risking her life for the man she loves.

Here's the biggest problem with The Village: the advertising.

Every trailer, every commercial, every print ad went out of its way to literally SCREAM into the audiences face that this was going to be a BIG ASS HORROR FILM. It was going to scare your bones out of your body. You were going to shit the bed at night, shivering under your sheets. This was a film from the director of THE SIXTH SENSE, and it was going to send you to an early grave with fright!

None of that is true. Yes, there are creepy moments in the film--after all, there is a subplot about monsters. But The Village is NOT a horror film. It is a drama and a love story with supernatural elements.

The film looks gorgeous. Say what you will about Shyamalan as a writer (and I agree, the man has drastically lost his edge in the writing department), he really knows how to shoot a film. He's assisted greatly by the breathtaking cinematography of the always fantastic Roger Deakins. Deakins makes each shot look like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life.

The costumes are perfect. The sets realistic. The actors believable. And the soundtrack, by James Newton Howard with violin accompaniment by superstar violinist Hilary Hahn is heartbreakingly beautiful; one of the best scores I've ever heard, up there with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtrack for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. To put it bluntly, The Village is a very good movie.

But there's another problem, besides the misleading marketing: the trademark Shyamalan Twist Ending.

At the time this movie came out, Shyamalan's name was synonymous with twist endings. The Sixth Sense, after all, had one of the biggest twist endings in film history. Shyamalan sort of got shoe-horned into this task; it seemed like he felt he HAD to give each film a twist ending, or else his fans would be disappointed.

The Village does have a twist ending; several, actually. The following is a SPOILER, but since the movie is eight years old, it shouldn't matter at this point.

Our first twist comes when we discover that there ARE no monsters. The town elders have been making them up to sort of the keep the townsfolk in line. Yet, when Ivy goes into the woods, she does indeed run into a monster. The monster however turns out to be Noah in a costume--it was Noah who was killing and skinning all the animals in town.

Then comes the even BIGGER twist. Through the entire film, we are made to believe these events are taking place in the past. It turns out that's not true at all--it's the present, and the elders have again pulled the wool over the younger townsfolk's eyes. They set up the village as a sort of experiment; a way to escape the horrors of the "real world."

The more you think about this twist, the dumber it seems, and I suspect this also played a part in derailing the film for a lot of people. But this twist, despite it's large implications, is presented in a very after-the-fact way. It doesn't really hold much bearing on the plot, so really it should be easy to get over it if you think it's dumb.

So, was The Village unjustly maligned? I think so. And now--years after its release--might be a perfect time to revisit the film without all the stigma. If you go into the film expecting more of a dramatic thriller than a shock-till-you-drop horror film, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Final Verdict (Give it a Second Chance or It Turns out it Really IS Bad!): Give it a Second Chance.

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