Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In Defense of M. Night Shyamalan's The Village


It's goes without saying, but there will be **MAJOR SPOILERS** here. But I was spoiled BEFORE I ever saw this film, and I think that made me love it more.


Few movies are as epically misunderstood, and thus slandered, as M. Night Shyamalan's fourth feature film, The Village, a period romantic thriller set in 19th century Pennsylvania. We can blame the movie studio for some of that. It was marketed as a horror flick, and it is anything but... The outrage in some way, is rightly so, the monsters of the woods are seen a bit too early, and they look ridiculous. Plus, there's the elephant in the room:  that patented Shyamalan twist that pissed everybody off.


You probably said, or heard, something like: "Oh, it's really present day, and their parents were lying to them." OR "I saw that coming a mile away." OR "That movie was fucking stupid," as you drank some beers with your college friends later that night. Well, that was my experience. I was in college when it came out, and that's exactly what I heard.

Yes. The Village is well known for its twist, its "monsters," and even, most notably, its ability to make everyone spoil it immediately. I avoided it for years because of all this. Then, this:

[Please watch before you read on. This is seriously brilliant.]


So, I was inspired to watch it, after all those years, by a guy who defends it to perfection. I will make his same argument. This movie grabs ahold of you with its tone, a tone embedded in a new classical way of filmmaking. There is just so much going on in this film...narratively, visually, and musically. I couldn't look away. I couldn't zone out. It demanded my full attention.

Although it starts as such, The Village is more than a story about what lurks in the woods, a common story of American lore that draws the viewer in effortlessly. (And whether you know the twist or not, you can't deny that you were not spellbound by the visual and auditory mastery of the first act of the film.) Sure. Maybe it would've been better to just make a straight-up thriller about creatures who haunt a wood surrounding a farming community in the 1800s. But where's the fun...and meaning...in that.


Here is a film that wants to be many things, and it succeeds at pretty much every single one. It is a gorgeously composed period piece. Every technical piece exudes perfection, from the production and costume design on up to the timeless cinematography of Roger Deakins and the Oscar-nominated score by James Newton Howard.

It is a showcase for an immense array of talent. On the front end of the camera is an ensemble cast of the highest order, featuring screen greats William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and Brendan Gleeson alongside up-and-coming screen greats Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Adrien Brody, fresh off an Oscar win. They all bring their game, and Shyamalan's "sincerity," to quote Scout Tafoy's essay, is oozes out of every performance. These great actors saw something in this...a chance to do some real acting, a chance to be involved in something unique.

And it is a unique idea for a film about people with a unique idea. In Pennsylvania (and quite a few other states)...right now...a group of people choose to live an old-fashioned life out of a desire to stay pure in an otherwise troubled world. In this, it seeks to answer the ages-old question of Utopia, whether it can exist at all, especially when a world of lies is exposed to those who desire some existential truth like Pheonix's Lucius Hunt, or, quite simply, just want to feel loved, protected, and to be bold in the pursuit of that, like Howard's Ivy Walker.


Is Shyamalan being manipulative in the end? Hell yes! And he knows it. That is the result of this movie but not its purpose, which is also the reason it makes no difference whether you know the "big twist" or not. Shyamalan had, with hist three previous hit films, proven this very manipulation of plot his MO. But there is something more here, way more than "Bruce Willis was dead?" Know it's coming, but don't see it for that. Enjoy it for what it is...a gorgeous, Oh! So gorgeous, fully calculated piece of American cinema. Shyamalan pinpoints an atmosphere, one of the looming sensation of dread and mystery and never moves that feeling one inch until the film's final moments. You can love it or hate it, that ending, but what came before it cannot be denied.

Put simply, there is nothing quite like this movie, at least nothing I've ever seen. And, for that, it demands a second chance. 

8 comments:

  1. I have yet to see this film of his. I love Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and I like Signs but some of his other works are...blecchhh. The last one sucks. I have not seen this film and I want to because my best friend said it is really good and worth seeing. I don't like going by the masses anyway so I will see this film one day

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you like strong atmosphere heightened by world-class cinematography and score, then you'll love this. I promise.

      Delete
  2. I'll have to watch The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, & The Village. They all seem like pretty interesting films. I guess I really didn't want to see them because of the fact that Shyamalan has become a bad director lately, & the twist always seems to be seen from a mile away. But you've really piqued my interest here. I guess I'll have to pick these films up soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All of the movies you mentioned are really good. Don't listen to the haters. Even Lady in the Water is cool.

      Delete
  3. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo I hate this movie. lol. I agree 100% with you that the studio that marketed this movie failed terribly. I was one of their victims as I was expecting a horror movie going in, and got weird love triangle/shock ya ending.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so well made though, Britt. I literally couldn't look away from it.

      Delete
  4. Nice post! The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable rank a little higher than The Village, but I didn't find this one to be as bad as many did. Bryce and Joaquin are probably my favorite parts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I would put The Village above both of those actually. I love it. The Sixth Sense lost its luster after so many watches.

      Delete