Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.
USA, 2004. Touchstone Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions. Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Produced by Sam Mercer, Scott Rudin, M. Night Shyamalan. Music by James Newton Howard. Production Design by Tom Foden. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Christopher Tellefsen. Academy Awards 2004. Online Film Critics Awards 2004.
This chapter in M. Night Shyamalan’s trove of scary tales is one of the most pretentiously idiotic pieces of tripe that you’ll ever see. It takes place in the 1890s, with citizens of a tiny village living in peaceful idyll away from the cares of the bustling towns near them. Surrounding their hollow (dare I say their sleepy hollow? There’s lots of that kind of ripping off going on here) is a dense forest that is purported to be full of terrifying beasts who struck a pact with the humans to never enter the village so long as they in turn never intrude into the forest. This pact must be broken when one soft-spoken villager (Joaquin Phoenix) takes a very bad turn and needs medicine from the outside world. The task of retrieving it falls to a blind young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) who must venture into the woods in the hopes that her “pure” spirit will not incure a beast’s wrath (she’s not really pure, she’s just really polite and spunky in a non-threatening way). This being a Shyamalan film, there has to be a heart-stopping twist in the conclusion that completely reverts the audience’s expectations and makes them see the whole story in a new light. After having done it so many times, it looks like the filmmaker has really painted himself into the proverbial corner and the last third of the film manages to somehow be much worse than the ridiculous idiocy that precedes it. The dialogue is atrocious, with noted and celebrated actors like Sigourney Weaver, Cherry Jones and Adrien Brody (who really embarrasses himself here) giving terrible performances in their attempts to utter it comprehensibly. Shyamalan once again encourages a languid, slow pace full of “intensity” which, thanks to his shallow screenplay, is really just drawn-out boredom, and it doesn’t help that he has William Hurt, the only actor who can film a movie while in a coma, appearing in a central role. It would also have been nice if someone had told Howard that blind people don’t dart their eyes everywhere and stare directly at the people who are speaking to them (even if they claim to see people’s ‘auras’ whenever they’re near). Lines like “His will to live is strong in him” are an example of the kind of drivel you have to listen to here; this movie dost infect mine eyes.