Trouble in paradise

M. Night Shyamalan continues his long journey into irrelevancy.

Gabriel Shapiro

In 1960, Chubby Checker set the world spinning with his hit “The Twist.” Nearly 40 years later, director M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” re-invigorated Hollywood’s love affair with a different sort of twist: The surprise ending. Checker never recaptured the magic of his first hit, and the same argument could be made for Shyamalan.

It is a shame that Shyamalan continues to insist on making the same type of film over and over. He is clearly a talented director; he knows how to build tension, his films always look gorgeous, his use of color is more interesting than many visual signatures you’re likely to see and he gets great performances out of his casts.

The problem may be that he is constantly writing for the twist, and everything else becomes secondary.

In “The Village,” Shyamalan has again assembled a star-filled cast, each of whom gives a good performance. Alas, the cast’s talents are betrayed by intentionally forced dialogue that leaves us floating uncomfortably between the Amish patter of “Witness” and a high school play.

Adrien Brody might have shot himself in the foot by being so unforgettably good in “The Pianist,” thus making every later film seem somehow unworthy. Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt are both well-cast as concerned parents and town elders, but neither is outstanding.

The best role in the film was given to relative newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Hollywood’s top shlock merchant, Opie Taylor himself, Ron Howard). Her skill as an actress shows through, despite the plodding, amateurish dialogue she must recite.

The story is an old one, and therefore predictable, though there are variations on its all-too-common themes. Shyamalan really gets into trouble when he starts unraveling the twist too slowly. Even the most stultified viewer will have put two and two together by the time Shyamalan is ready to confirm what we all suspect is going on. The result, meant to be shocking, is instead a moment of comic genius, however unintentional.

The audience finds itself in the slightly uncomfortable position of getting a full-on belly laugh out of a movie in which levity is not the goal, after our sympathy for the characters disappears in our bemusement over their situation.

Overall, “The Village” leaves one feeling that it could have easily been a far better film, and the encumbrances stem from Shyamalan’s unfortunate choice to turn what should have been a frightening, adult-friendly fable into an overweening lecture on security and willful ignorance.

The difference between the shocks, thrills and twists in “The Sixth Sense” and “The Village,” and the reason that the former worked so well and the latter fails to work at all, arise out of this heavy-handedness.

The mystery of “The Sixth Sense” was solved in a moment; it seemed natural when it occurred. “The Village” has its already obvious secrets revealed in a series of monologues that stick out like signposts thrown in to be sure you’re getting it. It’s simply too contrived, too predictable and too clumsily arranged to be anything but supremely annoying.

“The Sixth Sense” was a purely enjoyable mystery/horror flick; it might have had a message, but it wasn’t made to advance that message so singularly as to forget to have fun.

As Shyamalan continues down the unfortunate slope of his career, on which every film is worse than the one preceding, perhaps he will abandon the twist for something that allows him to put his talents to good use, rather than making any more patronizing, plodding and unscary bombs.