Warning: Contains spoilers for “The Village” and “Open Water” (but probably nothing you couldn’t figure out on your own). Oh, yeah, and “Jaws”, too. For a spoiler-free “Village” anecdote, see my previous entry.

The biggest spoiler I read about “The Village” before I saw it — and the one that perfectly encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the movie — is the explanation of the film’s PG-13 rating which you can read in any newspaper ad: “for a scene of violence and frightening situations”.

A scene of violence? That’s it? I thought this was a horror film. Worse, this scene of violence comes about halfway through the movie, so after that, you know the good stuff’s pretty much over.

But then again, maybe the bigger and more revealing spoiler are the words “An M. Night Shyamalan Film” in the ad, since that should’ve told you all the same things anyway.

Steven Spielberg gets a lot of credit for rejuvenating horror films with “Jaws”. His trick, which was pretty novel at the time, was not to show the shark at first. Instead, he teased the shark with music, with creepy shots of a dorsal fin slicing through the water, and with gruesome off-screen deaths, so that when audiences finally saw the shark’s face, it was milked for maximum effect.

The problem with M. Night Shyamalan is that he never wants to show you the shark. He wants to wait until the last five minutes of the film and then tell you that the shark was actually a guppy. And once you know this, you don’t enjoy his movies the way you’re supposed to. You sit there not so much interested in the characters, who’s going to live or die, or how they’re going to conquer the beast. You can’t enjoy any of the typical pleasures of a horror film, because all throughout, you’re just trying to figure out the puzzle. And once you do, the tension is pretty much gone and you can skip the rest of the film. I think Shyamalan has a lot of talent as a filmmaker but a very misguided notion of how to please an audience. The fun of a movie shouldn’t be in trying to outsmart the director. As one guy at the showing I saw muttered on the way out, “I wanted to see a horror film…”

Shyamalan doesn’t help his case by coming off like an arrogant prick in interviews. It only leads geeks like me to write patronizing reviews like this. If you really think you’re such a great director, M. Night, you should realize that the third act of your movie is built around a horror movie contrivance so unbelievable (let’s send a blind girl after the monster… all by herself!) that even a garden variety hack would never try to get away with it. Sorry, but an Oscar nomination doesn’t entitle you to insult the audience’s intelligence. But just when you’re ready to forgive the director’s pretensions, he shows up in his obligatory cameo, reading a newspaper in which every headline drives home the movie’s all-too-obvious-at-that-point-anyway theme.

When you strip away all the storytelling tricks and plot holes of “The Village”, there’s actually a pretty interesting premise behind it. It’s just a shame we never get to enjoy the movie it could’ve been.

So I left theater disappointed, still wanting to see a genuine horror film. My only hope was that “Open Water” might take the bad taste out of my mouth when it’s released next weekend.

And then I was stupid and looked at the ad for the film in the paper: “Rated R – for language and some nudity”. Language and nudity?! No mention of violence? Even “The Village” was slapped for “frightening situations”.

Oh, well. At least we’ll get to see some sharks.

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