The Village (DVD)
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Offering a couple good jolts amid a lame storyline, The Village, now on DVD, continues director M. Night Shyamalan's battle with hype over logic.
Set in a quaint, puritanical village, Shyamalan's latest tale picks up on the same themes set forth in his previous films: love, loss, and confronting the darkness that surrounds us all.
This time, though, the story's very premise works to its own disadvantage. The story revolves around a group of people that have cut themselves off from the rest of society ("The Towns," as the outside world is referred to) for a myriad number of reasons. As a result, considering their small number, the end game of what must ultimately be termed "inbreeding" has led to an incredibly high per capita rate of neurotics, psychotics and otherwise imbalanced folks, too many of whom harbor deep, dark secrets and suppressed emotions.
Lacking modern medicines and living by a suffocating number of superstitions about what lies in the woods, it might occur to one or two villagers that perhaps the life they have struggled so hard to live might be better lived a couple grassy knolls down the road, away from the nasty creatures threatening their lives and decimating their livestock with shockingly frequent regularity. But such thoughts would lead, for better or worse, to no movie.
Even though the entire village lives under the cloud of impending horror, their biggest threat is still man's own inhumanity to man. And so it is that Noah Percy (Adrien Brody, The Pianist), a mentally malnourished young man, sets the village on edge with a nasty knifing incident against Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix, Signs).
Having become engaged to Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), Lucius receives the jealous wrath of the highly unstable Noah, who sets in motion the unraveling of many, many secrets. The only hope Lucius has is if his beloved can make it to The Towns to retrieve medicines. Accompanied by two young men who quickly bail out because of paralyzing fear of what lies beyond the perimeter of their psycho village, Ivy forges ahead on her own and unwittingly discovers the film's much-hyped, but obvious, secret.
The Color Red
Amidst the unraveling story, there are still some very nice character-driven scenes, particularly between Lucius, Ivy, and Kitty (Judy Greer, 13 Going on 30), the only villager with a gregarious personality. The less familiar talents of Howard and Greer, as the two young ladies at the story's heart, turn in by far the film's best performances, outshining by many a megawatt their higher-priced colleagues, most notably William Hurt (Dark City) and Sigourney Weaver (Alien).
Some hackneyed acting aside, Shyamalan maintains — and even finesses — his technical expertise. The lighting of intimate scenes of conversation is nicely moody and the ever-grey sky creates a murky, forboding atmosphere. Such technical virtuosity isn't enough, though, to rescue the story and the characters.
In The Village, Shyamalan makes an anti-isolationist statement, but in doing so, he serves up a story sparse on chills and thrills and long on plot holes. This time, Shyamalan tries to outsmart audiences by piling on numerous elements, some of which instantly fall flat, as he weaves an ever more convoluted tale. From the outset, Shyamalan cheats, by what is said and what is not said, by what is shown and what is not shown.
Shayamalan has fallen victim to his own success. The surprise ending of The Sixth Sense was a treat, one that audiences were able to keep secret during its lengthy theatrical run. The follow-ups, Unbreakable and Signs, failed to capture the same magic and now, with The Village, the "surprise twist ending" could not possibly live up to the hype surrounding it.
Rather than focusing on the story and guessing the twist, simply savor the performances by Howard, Greer, and Phoenix. To use the village's vernacular, the rest is the story we do not speak of.
Each new release of the Touchstone Vista Series seems to be less and less spectacular, offering fewer worthwhile supplemental features. The Vista Series edition of The Village continues that trend.
On hand is a collection of the typical features.
The Deleted Scenes section offers four clips "that reveal clues to the movie's twists and turns," according to the DVD jacket. Unfortunately, it's simply 11 minutes of unspectacular footage, including introductions by Shyamalan and explanations of why there were cut; there's not much to get excited about here.
Deconstructing The Village is a 25-minute assembly of typical behind the scenes fodder. After viewing the featurettes, one is left with the impression making the movie was one big platonic love fest.
Bryce's Diary is an interesting twist on things. The 5 minute piece features Bryce reading from the diary she kept during the production. It's a different spin on things, offering a uniquely personal account of the film's making and final impression.
M. Night's Home Movie is a 4-minute clip of an Indiana Jones-esque film he made as a teenager. Watch it once then do what Shyamalan has not: move on.
Finally, the Production Photo Gallery offers 38 photos. Viewers can go at their own pace, frame by frame, or play the frames as a slideshow. The most interesting one, frame number 20, includes Shyamalan's director's chair, with his name misspelled. That must have slipped by everybody from production right on through to the DVD.
Picture and Sound
The fine widescreen (1.85:1) 16x9 enhanced presentation is THX certified and includes the THX Optimizer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround soundtrack (available in English and in French) is excellent, with nice background details coming form the rear channels.
Also included are English captions as well as French and Spanish Subtitles.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.