Movies — The Village (PG-13)

The You-Know-Who of Harry Potter fame finds no-name-having playmates in Those Who We Do Not Speak Of, creatures that menace a small town, in the otherwise grammatically perfect The Village, the latest movie from M. Night Shyamalan.

Because “Those Of Whom We Do Not Speak” is just as wordy but so much more natural. And correct. Grammatically correct. And in a movie like this, it needs to get all the things correct it possibly can.

The preposition-misusing Those of The Village are mysterious monsters that live in the Covington Woods, which surrounds a village in a valley. In this village live a dozen or so families with their children and their children’s families. Eking out a Shaker-furniture-filled and Little-House-On-The-Prairie-costumed existence, these families farm the land around their cluster of houses, sweep porches, bake pies and saw wood. They also send their sons to sit, wrapped in mustard-color cloaks, in guard houses around the perimeter of the village waiting and watching for the red-robed, monsterous Those to appear. When they do, the guards, uhm, ring a duck-and-cover bell, since they apparently sit up there weaponless. (Teenage boys without even a makeshift sword? And here the straining of my ability to suspend disbelief begins.)

Despite this constant menace of the deep dark woods, the families live happily—attending school and weddings and barn dances. They spend their down time knitting and speaking in the passive voice and the children grow up running free in these Pennsylvania-style moors.

The children in question? The blind yet moxieful Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Walker), the quiet-to-the-point-of-laryngitis Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) and the village idiot Noah Percy (Adrien Brody). Ivy and Noah have a romping, cavorting friendship but Ivy really has her bright-but-unseeing eye on the moody Lucius. The two awkwardly flirt even as Ivy’s married dad/ village elder Edward Walker (William Hurt) studiously avoids a relationship with Lucuis’ widowed mother Alice Hunt (Sigorney Weaver).

So into this little thicket of small- town drama wanders the Bad Thing That Happens. This Bad Thing requires the people of the village to consider sending someone to “the towns,” the catchall term for the whole rest of the world, which is full of villainy and wickedness and people without that recessive red-hair gene that everyone in the village seems to possess.

You know, some movies have a devil of a time getting that oh-so-lucrative PG-13 rating. They go back to the editing bay several times, exchanging f-words (nobody really says “freakin’” as much as the characters of a PG-13 movie), obscuring the bottom halves of frontal nudity shots, toning down the violence so that people are merely killed instead of hacked to bloody pieces. In the case of The Village, I wonder how the movie actually made it up to a PG-13. Who did it have to pay off so that it could look harsher and more dangerous than it really is?

The movie contains maybe two scenes of actual violence, no sex and very little kissing and no swearing or suggestive language. Hell, no contractions. No active verbs, even. And, wow, is it hard to say anything naughty in passive voice. “It has been damned by God” has none of the spark of a good “God damn it.”

Even the people seem unflappably rated G. Dressed in colorful yet tasteful turn-of-the-last-century-wear and determinedly serene, they move with purpose and with a faith in their own goodness, even when they are gathering up their children so they won’t be eaten by the Those.

With people so ponderously good, you find yourself desperate to see some spark of imperfection. Perhaps it is the creatures that have come to personify all their dark impulses and evil ways. Red—even in flowers and berries—is not permitted in the village (the many inhabitants’ red hair not withstanding) but the creatures model it with abandon. Could the people actually have found a way to remove their evilness, accidentally creating creatures that are nothing but evil?

This was one of the key-to-the-mystery ideas I considered while watching the movie (this particular plot twist comes thanks to the fifth season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Superstar”). That I mention it should clue you in to the fact that it’s not the case (or is it?). The actual plot twist does not satisfy the viewer nearly that much (or does it?). When I actually got to the big M. Night Shyamalan reveal scene, I was reminded of Bart Simpson’s reaction (in the first “Treehouse of Terror” episode of The Simpsons) to the point in the poem “The Raven” when the narrator opens the much-knocked-on door only to find…nothing. Do you know what would have been scarier, Bart asks Lisa. ANYTHING, he says.

The lameness of the big twist married with the irritating way in which the movie jerks you around to get there ruins any of the subtlety you usually get from this kind of suspense story. Unlike the traditional search-for-the-killer-style mystery, this kind of gothic intrigue shows you the whole picture. You get all the information about life in the village, there’s just one sliver of facts, one corner you don’t see, and it’s that corner that makes the whole rest of the picture look slightly different.

Smart, you think. Subtle, you say. How come it doesn’t work here, you ask.

Well, in part this movie fails at the big The Sixth Sense ta-da! because the plot twist is just so silly, just so anti-climatic, just so ANTHING-would-have-been-scarier.

Aside from all this, however, (“all this” being the complete failure of the movie), I really do hope enough people see this movie to see how fabulous Bryce Dallas Howard is. She’s a plucky heroine who rather cleverly gets herself out of a few jams and does all the real heavy lifting, actor-wise, in The Village. She defeats a variety of evils including, perhaps, death itself.

Alas, the only thing she can’t slay is this horrible plot.

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