Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Village of the Damned

A trip to see M. Night Shyamalan's The Village proved to be an expensive, and deeply unrewarding experience. To be honest, I was not expecting cinematic alchemy as Shyamalan has been on a distinctly downward spiral since 'The Sixth Sense', but I had not prepared myself for anything quite this terrible. If I was Shyamalan, I'd have taken a long hard look at the finished product, and quickly renamed it Alan Smithee's 'The Village'.

The film is set in an unspecified time and place, and features a small community dressed in bizarre nineteenth century garb. Their 'village' is enclosed by woods, and villagers are forbidden enter the woods due to some peculiar creatures in distinctly unscary red costumes referred to only as 'those we do not speak of' (thus ensuring that the most frequently recurring line in the entire movie ends with a preposition). Everyone speaks in ridiculously verbose language that renders even the most basic sentence as portentous nonsense (they cannot say 'what do you mean', only 'what is your meaning?', not 'I like dancing', but 'I do find dancing very agreeable').
The characters are distinctly one dimensional, the atmosphere entirely forced (with blandly dim photography and a predictable score) and the performances uniformly stilted. Joaquin Phoenix spends the first half of the picture with a persistent expression of pained consternation, as if he is trying to hold in a particularly troublesome bowel movement, and spends the second half of the movie in his death-bed. William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver are uncomfortably serious, newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director Ron) is unbearably earnest and small parts for the likes of Michael Pitt are particularly thankless. Worst of all is Adrien Brody's bumbling village idiot - a character almost offensive in its lack of originality and inspiration - and a terrible move for an actor of Brody's quality (although it will no doubt only enhance his bank balance).

I have a taste for the supernatural - indeed, I've even spent quite a lot of my time researching it (or at least the preternatural - but that semantic distinction is better saved for another time and place), but this really is guff. It lacks any real suspense or dramatic purpose, and any interest in its supposedly supernatural elements is surely undermined by a string of increasingly ridiculous plot twists. Shyamalan has made this his trademark (along with his own wryly amusing cameo appearances), but the formula has arguably begun to wear thin even by 'Unbreakable'. The ending to that film was easily intuited, given that it was actually the only possible conclusion to a somewhat plodding film, weighed down by inevitability. The denouement to 'The Village' is completely ridiculous - and only serves to leave more questions posed than answered. Anyone who discovers this supposed 'twist' before seeing the film will no doubt be completely baffled, and wisely elect not to part with their hard earned cash to view the picture.

'The Village' is pretentious, self-indulgent, tedious and artless. Anything this silly should at least be entertaining - but this is so completely boring. It is the worst film I've seen so far this year.

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