Heed my warning, for it is coming. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, a high-camp mélange of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two, is hands down the year’s worst film. It’s such a spectacular failure on every conceivable level that I kept hoping its meandering and moronic mise en scène would attain the insane visionary brilliance of John Boorman’s Zardoz. (But then, I realized, there can only be one Zardoz.) To say that Shyamalan has bitten off more than he can chew with The Village is an understatement—he’s practically drowning in food for thought. Beginning as an isolationist horror film about evil porcupine-people terrorizing a 19th-century American hamlet, The Village eventually morphs into the worst kind of post-9/11 allegory, telegraphing its every twisted move and screaming its earnest subtext hoarse. A slave to its story, The Village falls back on tried-and-true genre staples—the blind girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the village simpleton (Adrien Brody)—as cheap tension generators, probably necessary considering its (somewhat intentionally) cheap-looking villains. It’s nigh futile to talk about acting in Shyamalan’s hermetically sealed Skinner’s box. Howard is a pasty period-dress Barbie doll, cruelly manipulated by the director’s contrived narrative chess games. William Hurt blusters and bellows, channeling A.I.’s Professor Hobby to significantly lesser effect. The scar on Joaquin Phoenix’s lip has more personality than his meek character Lucius, while smug Oscar-winner Brody is insufferable in all his Method-Gump machinations. And, surprisingly, a dreamy Michael Pitt never shows his cock. “It…is…farce!” screams Hurt’s character, town elder Edward Walker, during one of the film’s “big” revelations, and you may be inclined to agree if only to avoid taking a moment of this dispiriting drivel seriously.
A disappointment in more ways than one, it’s easy to forget just how beautifully Roger Deakins shot The Village. As evidenced on this DVD edition, the film boasts some of the more atmospheric night shots I have ever seen in any film. Blacks are deep and sinister but it’s the shadow delineation that’s truly outstanding-if the film isn’t exactly credible as allegory, it certainly evokes a certain sinister naturalism. And from the complex tapestry of cracking twigs, stomping feet, and whistling wind, the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track equals the image in quality.
Typical. Not a single feature on this DVD even acknowledges the film’s surprise ending, which proves that M. Night Shyamalan is really more interested in making a quick buck than seriously engaging the spiritual and political consciousness of the American people and addressing their place in the world. The six-part "Deconstructing The Village" making-of featurette is insight-free but includes some nifty shots of the actors in boot camp (though I’m very disappointed with Sigourney Weaver’s blacksmithing skills). The strange "Bryce’s Diary" featurette intercuts behind-the-scenes footage and stills with a dead-serious Bryce Dallas Howard reading from her production diary, in which she details such moments as the day she met Adrien Brody and the actor left her speechless. Rounding out the disc are four deleted scenes introduced by Shyamalan, a predictably narcissistic home movie the director made when he was young (I’m thinking he was 11 or 12 at the time, since it’s lifted entirely from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a point the director doesn’t bother to mention in his intro), production photos, and trailers of upcoming DVDs from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Words uttered in The Village that you won’t hear people saying before renting the film on DVD: "Quickly, we must make haste!"