Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Village

On 20th August 2004, I took my seat in Nottingham's UGC (now Cineworld) for a screening of 'The Village'. My mood: high anticipation. I'd rationalised 'Signs' as one of those occasional dips in quality that all artists are entitled to, and was confident 'The Village' would prove a return to form. There had been plenty of advance publicity. The trailers were creepy as hell. The cast was to die for: William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody ... Oh,yes, I was looking forward to this one!

An hour and three quarters later, as I wrote in my maiden post as a blogger, I stumbled out of the cinema mumbling vehemently. I felt that I had to get on my soapbox and sound off.

That soapbox was MovieBuff, my first blog. And here I am, four years later, in my third incarnation on the blogosphere, revisiting one of the most disappointing, dispiriting experiences I've had a in movie theatre (perhaps only rivalled by 'The Departed', Scorsese's flabby, tired, by-the-numbers desecration of the taut Asian thriller 'Infernal Affairs', and - yes - 'The Happening'). But let's remain in the past for a moment. Here's the rest of the article I wrote on 'The Village':

I will not spoil the film for those who have not seen it. The obligatory twist ending will remain under wraps (one clue: ten minutes in, a snippet of dialogue betrays a specifically modern context). Suffice it to say that the final quarter of the film turns everything that has gone before on its head, revealing more than an hour's worth of sumptuous and beautifully acted film-making as little more than obfuscation; a cheap parlour trick.

It doesn't help that trailers and advertising site the film firmly in the horror genre. Nothing could be further from the truth. The first full appearance of the creatures in the woods (or the creature, singular; only one of them actually shows up) provoked disdainful giggles from most of the audience. The revelation as to their identity elicited groans.

M Night Shyamalan is too intelligent a director, too consummate a craftsman, for 'The Village' to be dismissed as a bad film. Nonetheless, this hasn't prevented me from wanting to wallop him and ask for my money back. There are many good things on display: the quality of acting is uniformly high, the cinematography gorgeous and the music atmospheric (the acclaimed American violinist Hilary Hahn features prominently on the soundtrack). The frustrating thing is that these elements are bound up in the first three-quarters of the film; once Shyamalan reveals his hand, the audience is forced to dismiss all of these things as a con job. In short, the payoff kills the movie stone dead.

All that remains is the poignant and bravura performance by Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director and former 'Happy Days' alumnus Ron Howard). Her star-making turn can only be compared to seeing Kate Winslet for the first time in 'Heavenly Creatures'.

Ms Howard's glittering career starts here. Sadly, so does the M Night Shyamalan backlash.

Fast forward to a couple of hours ago. I'd made the decision from the outset to rewatch all of Shyamalan's films in order. It was, I felt, the only way objectively to assess the man's career to date. Between me and Paula's respective DVD collections, we had all of his films ... except 'The Village'. And I wasn't going to shell out for a copy, even a cheapie off eBay. I asked around and finally a colleague gave me a lend.

I squared up to it. I had a bottle of wine to hand. I consoled myself that there was a big pile of ironing to be done while I was watching it, so at least the evening wouldn't be wasted. I told a deep breath and slid the DVD into the player.

"Cannot read disc."

You're never supposed to use the deus ex machina in fiction. It's a nice little added bonus, then, when one happens in real life.

One day, I'm sure, I'll see 'The Village' again. If, on that day, I realise that I was wrong all along and it's a masterpiece awaiting rediscovery, then I'll revisit the Shyamalan-a-thon and publically admit it.

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