After Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs, M. Night Shyamalan brings us a story that’s never quite sure what it’s trying to be. As a horror film, it fails to be scary; as a thriller, it fails to thrill, as a mystery it fails to elicit intrigue and as a love story it fails to engage the emotions. Is there anything that the film succeeds in?
It is difficult to review a film by Shayalaman; his trademark twists prevent anything more than the briefest of plot summaries from being mentioned without the risk of serious spoilers, but I’ll give it a go. In a remote, vaguely Puritan village circa 1897, the population live a peaceful life with an unnamed threat lurking in the woods that seperate the village from civilisation. There are rituals and traditions built up around those in the woods, such as the colour red being forbidden (as it attracts them), and fear prevents the villagers from crossing the boundary, even when they need medicine from the towns. The villagers don’t leave and those in the woods don’t enter the village, until one day, it appears that the truce is at an end, and skinned animal corpses start being found.
That’s as much of the plot as I can reveal, and it’s not much more than you’d see if you’d watched a trailer. I don’t want to go into any details in case you do actually want to see it, but suffice to say, the plot twists and turns on several occasions. Sadly, on almost every occasion, it serves to make the story more mundane and more grounded in normality that it was before. Time and again, aspects of the story that could have served to highten tension are stripped away, leaving you feeling disappointed — instead of ‘oh!’, all you get is ‘oh…’
The Village does manage to be a little tense to begin with, but Shyamalan falls into the same trap he fell into with Signs; namely, showing the audience what they’re supposed to be afraid of. It’s much, much scarier if you don’t show the creatures. Once you show them, you’ve lost it, because no special effects or modelling department can match what someone can imagine. We only get a brief glimpse of one of the woodland creatures, as it wanders around the terrified village, but that’s more than enough to reveal that they look like great big shuffling muppets. At least in Signs, we didn’t see the aliens until close to the end, but here it happens very close to the beginning and kills the tension stone cold.
It’s not a scary film, then, but as a mystery the story fails as well, due to an over-reliance on plot twists that amount to nothing much more than a cast member explaining why everything you thought was wrong so far and this is why. You shouldn’t try and think too hard about the plot, by the way — the more you think about it the less sense it makes.
Casting is generally uninspired. I’d heard good things about female lead Bryce Dallas Howard, but I found her to be pretty average. She plays the part of a blind girl, but a blind girl who can see surprisingly well when it suits her. Joaquin Phoenix is wasted here as the stoic Lucius Hunt, and similarly wasted are Brendan Gleeson and Sigourney Weaver whose parts could have been taken by unknown actors and it would not have mattered. There’s a vague attempt at a love story between Phoenix and Howard but it’s brief, unimaginative and barely worth a mention. The formal dialogue is stiff and tedious. It’s a boring film.
I’d like to be able to say something positive about The Village. But, the thing is…I can’t.