|(Publication date: Aug. 27, 2004)
Everyone’s an Idiot in This Village
We left Albany for vacation before we could see The Village, the new movie from M. Night
Shyamalan. On our trip, there wasn’t much to read in the languages we pretend to speak at our
house, French, Spanish, and sometimes English, so by the time we were walking up and down
Solano Avenue again, we had no idea what anyone thought of The Village. Allison, Parker, and
I decided to check it out.
Between the village we live in and the one in the movie, I like ours better. Way better. I feel like
I’m careening down the old curlicue slide at Memorial Park with this director—exhilarated at
the top when he made The Sixth Sense, still having fun on the trip down with Unbreakable,
slowing a bit as the ground approaches with “Signs,” and then landing in a disappointed heap
with The Village. I live in fear that next he’ll try a remake of The English Patient, and
watching that would be like plopping into the Memorial Park sand after one of the
neighborhood cats had just used it for the reason cats think sand was invented.
In this one, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and Bryce
Howard (Ron’s daughter, and I hope there are happier days ahead for her after this movie),
play isolated, late 19th century villagers who have fled the evils of civilization. Maybe they
Carl’s Jr. ads and drivers talking on cell phones were coming. Or maybe they heard in advance
about this film. Anyway, they’ve built this village surrounded by woods. And in the woods live
these creatures. William Hurt, as a village elder and schoolteacher, tells the kids what the deal
is with the monsters. “Children,” he intones, sounding like having to recite this dialogue gives
him a headache, “We do not go into their woods, they do not come into our valley. It is a
truce.” Or maybe the monsters just
don’t want to be subjected to this screenplay. The cardboard dialogue is part of the plot, and I
won’t say any more than that, but still, it made me want to bolt for a Spike Lee movie.
And speaking of the monsters, oh please. Are they warthogs? Are they big porcupines? Who
can tell? Or, more to the point, who cares?
At one juncture, the blind villager played by young Ms. Howard makes a stumbling trek
through the perilous woods. Hand-held camera, bare tree limbs revolving against a sunless
sky…okay, now we’ve got The Blair Village Project. She has a long journey, and it felt like
we were being dragged along with her in real time. It was like My Dinner with Andre on the
Mist Trail at Yosemite. I was afraid that by the time she got where she was going, Mr.
Shyamalan would be out with a holiday movie.
There are some good things here, including a superb cast, albeit bereft of much that’s
interesting to say. Bryce Howard is a revelation, movie genes galore. One scene involving a
knife is joltingly effective, the director at his best. But his trademark plot twists are starting to
work against him—you spend the whole movie waiting for the big surprise at the end,
especially with this film, since there’s little else to keep you awake until you get there.
After the movie, Parker’s friend William came over and I heard one greet the other with,
“Dude! ‘Sup?” It was the perfect perk-me-up after the droning, stilted dialogue of The
Village. Only two words. Spoken by a real person. In a real village.