The Village. It may not be as terrible as some may have made it out to be, but it’s definitely not the masterpiece others, who blamed the film’s negative reviews on its slightly inaccurate marketing, have retrospectively claimed it is. [NOTE: REVIEW CONTAINS HEAVY SPOILERS, WHICH ARE CLEARLY MARKED]
I have this to say to them: if you were in charge of advertising this movie, how would you have done it? The basic premise literally screams “supernatural horror”, and since being truthful about what the film really was would have required spoiling at least one of its two gigantic plot twists, being dishonest was probably the best move. You know you probably don’t have a very good movie on your hands when it is literally impossible to even market it the right way.
Anyway, I myself know very well to judge a movie based on what it actually is, not what the advertising may say about it, so that’s not why I don’t like The Village. The reason why I don’t like The Village is because it’s a messy, illogical waste of potential only worth the time of M. Night Shyamalan diehards, and even though they could certainly do much worse, it’s not like choosing this particular film of his would be doing them any favors.
I don’t even know how to describe the plot of this movie, which essentially reads like a bizarre mashup between the two Lois Lowry books The Giver (a comparison it earns from the final twist—more on that later) and Messenger, without somehow giving something away. I guess I’ll just put it this way: an 1800s-ish village of people lives in fear of some evil creatures in the woods surrounding them named “Those We Don’t Speak Of”, who are attracted by the color red for reasons never explained.
Despite that annoying lack of detail already starting to get on my nerves, The Village‘s first 10 minutes actually built up some decent suspense. In fact, I was even starting to think “OK, this really isn’t that bad. Maybe all of the film’s supporters are right after all, and everybody else just accidentally saw a completely different movie or something.” Then we get to the shallow, melodramatic romance subplot (introduced by way of one of the most cringe-worthy speeches I’ve ever—ever—seen in any movie), and those kinds of thoughts were instantly relieved from my mind.
Now look, it’s not the romance in itself that irritates me. It’s the fact that the lovers themselves—a blind girl named Ivy Elizabeth Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard—yes, she’s Ron Howard’s daughter) and a nice dude named Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix)—have zero chemistry, personality, or reasons to even really be together in the first place. Characters that I know and care this little about are one of my biggest pet peeves in the movies, and don’t even get me started on how the mentally disabled “village idiot” apparently also loving Ivy (which we only get a small indication of in one brief scene) absurdly makes him flip from “bumbling, lighthearted fool” to “insane psychopath” in mere minutes.
Even worse, when we finally do get a glimpse of a “Those We Don’t Speak Of” individual (which happens around the 30-minute mark), it looks so insanely stupid and fake that it completely turned a previously tense scene into a borderline comical one. Yes, the first plot twist, which happens about an hour in, explains why this is the case, but it doesn’t redeem that first appearance at all. If anything, when you really think about what possibly could’ve happened to Ivy if Lucius hadn’t swooped in to save her at just the right moment*, it only makes things even funnier.
And yet, the truth about the monsters, as well as the community they surround, is one of the only genuinely good things about this movie. Yeah, the basic theme’s been done before, and yeah, there’s about a million stupid little holes in the way it was executed here, but the premise of [SPOILER ALERT] a community shutting itself off from the rest of modern-day society in a wildlife reserve and using fear (in this case, fear of monsters that aren’t even real) to control and manipulate its residents is actually a great idea for a better movie. [END SPOILERS]
Unfortunately, a great idea—and great directing, cinematography, and production values too, admittedly—is all we get here, and the fact that Shyamalan has apparently made much better than that (The Sixth Sense and Signs, neither of which I have seen, being just a couple examples) makes that especially disappointing. Then again, so many stupid contrivances and conveniences have already piled up in the plot by then anyway that it’s no wonder everybody dismissed that shocking final revelation as ridiculous. And believe me, “ridiculous” is a very apt term to describe a lot of this film.
In fact, I can’t even decide when The Village reaches Peak Ridiculous: the aforementioned first scene with the monsters, an unintentionally hilarious chase scene in the woods, or that awfully pretentious, arrogant cameo from Shyamalan himself at the very end. I’ll have to go with the cameo.
*[HEAVY SPOILER ALERT #2] Which would have literally been nothing. No, really.