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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Exploring 'The Village'

In the same vein as my previous Mission: Impossible 3 post, I feel like a lot of our discussion about M. Night Shyamalan's film The Village (2004) would be best served as a thread of its own. Since much of the movie's plot hinges on twists, the Controversial Take that Sam and I did in Episode 5 was not as detailed as it could have been, given that neither one of us wanted to spoil the movie.

I'm taking no such precautions, so stop reading if you don't know what happens.

Part of the reason I didn't like the movie is because I hate its twists. There are two big twists in The Village: one is that the "monsters" are really adults in drag, and the other is that the village itself is actually in the modern era. Both of these strike me as being on the level of bad shaggy dog stories. You set up an interesting premise and then completely pull the rug out from under us with boring and mundane explanations of things that seem fantastic. I mean, here are these weird creatures that are menacing the characters, and it's sort of interesting (and a few of those moments are tense) but then we learn it was just elders in costumes? Talk about a boring solution.

The problem is that we spent a lot of time learning about the monsters, and what keeps them at bay, and the weird rituals the townsfolk go through to do it. I understand that this is the kind of stuff you probably would come up with if you were inventing monsters to scare kids, but as an audience member I feel cheated by the revelation. Frankly, it's only one step away from saying "It was all a dream!" You set up the rules and then reveal that they were all fake to begin with. Even movies that do this with style (e.g. The Usual Suspects) kind of irk me because it feels like the filmmakers were just pulling my chain.

The other twist bothers me less, but it also feels less integral to the story. Oh, the village is really a preserve. Well, I guess that explains why everyone's 19th Century speech sounds like it was written by somebody from the 20th Century who can't write dialogue. But otherwise, so what? What's worse is the heroine's journey at the end makes no sense. Why the heck wouldn't William Hurt have just gone to get the medicine? He sends his blind daughter instead?

I know, he took some vow never to return to modern society. But his willingness to send his BLIND DAUGHTER by herself into a modern world she doesn't know about just to maintain his own personal integrity makes him into the most despicable of cowards. I might be OK with that, but I think the movie wants him to seem well-meaning but misguided. No way is that the case, and the fact that the rest of the village elders are willing to let Joaquin Phoenix die just because they took a vow makes them equally culpable. But the movie doesn't dwell on any of this -- instead it sends out Bryce Dallas Howard on a final journey in order to try and squeeze out some more scares.

So Adrien Brody shows up wearing a monster suit and we're supposed to wonder: could the monsters be real? No, of course not. Does Shyamalan think his audience is stupid? This is a rhetorical question, but based on his follow-up movie, the answer is a resounding "YES!" He's already pulled the monster card and when he tried to play it again I couldn't believe it. And I felt almost no tension during this final sequence. The movie blows away the little tension it had when it reveals that everything is mundane at the end of the second act (and even the "big" twist of the village's nature is completely obvious well before Shyamalan reveals it), and so the third act seems pointless for us to watch.

And I haven't even really mentioned the first two-thirds of the movie. I thought all of the character interaction -- and there was a lot of it -- seemed weak. Shyamalan's weakness as a writer becomes more apparent with each film he does, as he moves further and further away from well-defined genres. Without the conventions of the thriller to rely on, the parts of the film that function as straight drama just do not work. Are we really that interested in Phoenix and Howard's blossoming romance? Is Phoenix's wanderlust anything other than the oldest cliche presented as flatly as possible? The entire movie creaks under the weight of the bloated dialogue and stuffy atmosphere. There is no passion, no excitement, nothing but some nice photography and decent performances.

The only thing the movie has going for it are the monsters, and once I knew what they were I felt only cheated. I'm with Sam that the movie has something to say, but the first rule of storytelling is that what you have to say doesn't matter -- it's only how you say it. And I think Shyamalan makes his point in as dull and uninteresting way as he could.

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