Review of The Village

The Village (2004)
After more thought...
31 July 2004
I'm writing a follow up comment to one I left right after seeing the movie because the more I think about it, the more frustrated I become. The Village really could have been so much better than it is and the problem is the "surprise" ending, the thing that so many people here are commenting on, but not actually for the reason people are saying.

I think M Night Shyamalan (as well as the people who saw The Village and actually thought the ending worked) would benefit greatly from watching an Atom Egoyan film like Exotica. Egoyan is a truly brilliant filmmaker while Shyamalan is a filmmaker who thinks he's brilliant. Egoyan delays information to keep the audience off-balance and so they don't immediately know what's going on, but he doesn't keep it for a big twist at the end--the delayed information is parceled out during the course of the movie to enhance dramatic impact. The Village would have been much more powerful and affecting if Shyamalan had utilized a similar storytelling structure rather than relying so heavily on a rickety would-be surprise ending. By keeping such a major plot revelation for the very end Shymalan screws up the movie because: a) people like myself who figure out the ending early get bored waiting for the obvious to be revealed and b) people who don't figure out the ending feel cheated because it invalidates what they thought the movie was.

From a marketing standpoint the problem with eliminating the trick ending is that once you do The Village turns into what it really is, a romantic drama rather than a thriller. The Village isn't a thriller. The only way Shyamalan can even create the illusion that The Village is a thriller is to withhold crucial information until the very end. But people who go to The Village expecting to see a thriller will feel duped (as the many angry comments here on the IMDB can attest), and people who actually enjoy the more thoughtful aspects of the story are likely to be frustrated that the structure with its gotcha ending prevents the romance and actual dramatic conflict from being developed to anywhere near the extent that it should have been.

As much as I liked parts of The Village, at this point I'm hoping that after the inevitable strong opening weekend it tanks. Based on recent interviews it seems like M Night Shyamalan judges whether his movies work or not based on their ultimate box office take, so if The Village flops maybe it will force him to actually take a few chances and break free of his formula that is not only showing greatly diminishing returns from movie to movie but, in the case of The Village, turned what could have been a really first rate and thought provoking romantic drama into a mediocre and gimmicky thriller.
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