Monday, June 02, 2008

The Village

Finally caught up with M Night Shyamalan’s The Village last night, on TV.
I always enjoy Shyamalan’s movies, but I’d steered away from this one because I’d heard it hadn’t quite achieved what it seemed to be setting out to do. It turns out still to be a very effective thriller, in its own unusual way, but doesn’t bear thinking about too much afterwards.
The tension would have been stronger if our viewing hadn’t been interrupted by frequent ads, and by my suspecting that things weren’t quite as the villagers tried to make out. I didn’t know the ending but had an inkling that things weren’t quite what they seemed.
It’s an odd story, however, more strange than any of the director/writer’s other outings, more strange because in the end its inner logic is based on shifting sands. The viewer is left with far too many questions at the end: why did the elders decide to continue to lie after Ivy came back from her trip to the ‘towns’. What would Ivy feel about that – she’d met someone who was kind there, not fearful as she’d expected. How was it Adrian Brophy’s character followed her successfully into the fearsome woods and yet managed to be overcome by her. (In fact, he seems immune to pretty much everything else, including the woods themselves.) How does Ivy manage that extraordinary trip through the woods on her own? Philosophising about her ability to ‘see’ when she’s blind because the other villagers may be blind in their thinking, doesn’t really cut it. Unfortunately this aspect of the story isn’t helped by the actress Bryce Dallas Howard. Too often she plainly has no trouble finding her way around. And then there are times when she’s stumbling around the village as though she’d never been there before. (For example, she runs freely in a race with Brophy, but later on walks, arm outstretched and cane tapping the ground, while finding her way to her lover’s house, a trip which ought to be just as familiar.)
Why would the elders sustain the lie that there were evil creatures in the woods to their children and grandchildren? How did they expect this all to be carried through to the next generation? And why is everybody dressed in 19th century garb? Where did all the materials to build their houses come from? And are we expected to believe that no one knows they’re living in a nature reserve?
Okay, okay. We can pull it apart as much as we like (only Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense seems unbreakable in this respect). In the end, what’s it like to watch without quibbling about the details?
The acting is uniformly convincing, and William Hurt and Joaquin Phoenix are excellent, as always. The direction is top-notch, with timing and editing superb (Shyamalan’s movies always shine in this regard) . The design is good with the drab costumes making a distinct contrast to the bold yellows and reds of the two opposing ‘sides’.
In the end it’s the script that doesn’t quite cut it. But the direction manages to make us suspend disbelief long enough to overlook the flaws.
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