'Village' idiots in need of a 'Sixth Sense'


Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 12:49 a.m.

Spoiler alert.

Facts

NATE'S KEY:

4 "E"s: Tremendous (best of the bunch);
3 "E"s: Superior;
2 "E's: Fair (it's been done better);
1 "E": Avoid (save your money)

To be fair, I'm only going to spoil the endings of bad movies. Really bad ones, movies so bad they make you want to find the writers and break their glasses. I'm perpetrating a public service, saving you time and possibly even money so you, like me, don't end up getting ripped off by a supposedly clever filmmaker.

A good plot twist is a rare beast. When you watch as many movies as I do, it just becomes easy to detect story twists in advance; I can usually spot the killer early on or figure out who's in on the con.

But a good plot twist is more than just a good surprise. It puts a whole new perspective on everything before it. In the best possible examples, the shocking surprises at the end are so astounding, you want to watch those films again, right away, to see what you didn't notice the first time.

Such examples are "Psycho," "Fight Club," "The Usual Suspects" and "The Sixth Sense." You may recall "The Sixth Sense," the supernatural thriller about a kid who sees ghosts. The film's final revelation was a genuine mind-blower. It's become common for people to say they predicted the ending, but these people lie. This movie caught everyone off guard and became an instant classic.

Some years and several films later, the "Sixth Sense" writer/director is back with his latest creation. M. Night Shyamalan (also responsible for "Unbreakable" and "Signs") once again tries to frighten and surprise people with "The Village."

To say the results are lackluster would be an insult to genuinely lackluster films (like "Troy"). In fact, I'd say the twist in "The Village" is actually insulting; I felt betrayed by this film, like M. Night had sold me a bill a goods. A bill of goods!

"The Village" is set at the close of the 19th century. A small, rustic township steeped in mythology is at a crossroads. You see, they need medicine something fierce. But they can't go get any medicine because the village is surrounded by thick forests crawling with horrible monsters. If anyone goes into the woods (or wears red, or fails to hire Brendan Gleeson for a plumb character-actor gig), said monsters will treat them like a light brunch.

There are two free-thinking rebels in the village trying to figure out the secret behind the monsters. Meanwhile, the monsters are starting to attack the village for reasons unknown. It all comes to climax when ...

Before I ruin the ending for you, let me reminisce. "The Village" doesn't have the worst ending ever, but it does crack the bottom 10. There are still some twist endings, however, that leave me reeling in disbelief.

Take "Wisdom," for example. It starred Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore, and was written and directed by Estevez. It was a Robin Hood tale of love-struck bank robbers, circa the 1980s. It was largely forgettable, until the end when it is revealed that the entire movie had been a dream Estevez was having while napping in the bathtub.

"Boxing Helena" had a very similar ending. This dark and twisted film centers on Julian Sands, a doctor with an obsession with Helena, played by "Twin Peaks" stars Sherilyn Fenn. After a car accident, Sands takes control of the disabled woman and keeps her limbless but aware, locked in a trunk while he tries to seduce her.

It's sick, it's repulsive ... but in the end it just cops out and admits it was all just a demented fantasy.

"Jacob's Ladder" almost didn't make the list, because it is a well-made film with lots of very scary moments. But once again, the end reveals that nothing has actually happened, and Tim Robbins is just coming to grips with his inner demons.

Nothing is more disappointing than being led to believe you are watching an interesting, compelling, frightening story, and then having the rug jerked out from under you upon realizing the entire story is a sham. Its cinematic tomfoolery, celluloid street magic, designed not to surprise and entertain, but to trick you.

Which brings me back to "The Village." This movie is portrayed as a monster movie, but it isn't. It has been portrayed as a thriller, but it isn't. It has been portrayed as a psychological horror story, but it isn't that, either.

At its essence, the nature of "The Village" is to deceive the audience. Like a card trick, the movie gets the viewer to follow its lead and watch the cards on the table, while the trickster steals five bucks from your wallet with his other hand.

Because ultimately, there are no monsters. That's right, no monster at all.

Remember in "Signs" when M. Night had an alien invasion without showing an alien until the end? Well this time he makes a monster movie with no monsters whatsoever. Furthermore, it is revealed that the village isn't set in the 1890s, nor is there any mythology. It's actually set in the modern day, and the village elders are just plain nuts.

When all is said and done, "The Village" doesn't deliver.

1/2E (One half of one E)

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