Time to settle into another film by M. Night Shyamalan. Let's go down our M.
Night Checklist, shall we?
- Moody filming.
- A plot that is not afraid to take its time to unfold.
- Exemplary performances by some very talented actors, usually better than
they've ever been before.
- A spooky situation.
- A SHOCKING twist.
- A cameo by M. Night.
The story: A small village deep in the woods of Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia,
as per M. Night's rules of film-making) has a truce with "Those We Do Not Speak
The truce is basically a few simple rules; the color red is not allowed anywhere
in the village. On special occasions, such as weddings, a gift of meat is made
to the creatures. And nobody goes into the woods, ever.
Of course, what fun would the movie be if everyone obeyed these simple rules?
It seems that the village is running out of medical supplies, and a small boy
dies of illness. His friend, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin "AM I NOT MERCIFUL?!" Phoenix)
wants to brave traveling through the forbidden woods to "The Towns" (apparently
dens of iniquity and evil) to get more medicine.
He pokes at the town elders, led by Edward Walker (William "Lost in Space is
Not My Fault" Hurt), his mother Alice Hunt (Sigourney "Ripley" Weaver) and other
talented character actors, to let him make this trip. He believes that because
his motives are pure, he will be allowed safe passage by the forest dwellers.
This conflict takes up about the first half of the movie, with Lucius trying
to get approval for the trip and probing the boundary of the woods, incursions
by Those We Do Not Speak Of into the village, and a budding romance between
Lucius and Walker's youngest daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas "My Dad's Opie
Where They Wait
Visually, this is M. Night's best directing job yet. He really knows where
to place the camera and how to let the movie flow over you. You're willing to
go along with his premise that there is something in the woods, because he manages
to shoot them in a way that just makes the trees ooze menace.
The last time I was this intimidated by trees was "The Blair Witch Project."
In fact, while watching "The Village," I kept flashing back to the look of the
woods in BWP, except here the camera isn't on a caffeine bender. M. Night also
knows that what we don't see is scarier than any crafted creature can be.
The music is mostly excellent, except for two times when people wander past
the border into the woods, and the music does an abrupt "WHAM" to make you jump
and realize "something BAD just happened!" It was enough to jolt me out of the
mood of the movie each time. Something more subtle would have been much more
Unfortunately the plot feels a bit stretched, even padded in a few places.
It's far too concerned with making us wonder what the secrets of the film are
-- almost to the point where you'd rather just grab the director and shake it
out of him. You have to reach the "get on with it!" point before a plot development
breaks out. If Shyamalann had tightened things up a bit, I would have given
the movie another point.
We also get the obligatory flashbacks to show you what we missed just as it
becomes pivotal. That is getting a bit old, but at least this time it's not
as ham-handed as it was in "Signs."
It goes without saying that Shyamalan knows how to get a scare into most people.
The escalating situation, as the rules are broken and it becomes more obvious
that the forest dwellers are upset with the villagers, really builds the tension.
Then there's the Obligatory Plot Twist. Ever since "The Sixth Sense," Shyamalan
has seemed almost forced into having some sort of shocking bit at the end of
every film. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. NO, I will not tell you
what the twists are here. I will say that I saw one of them coming (in fact
I suspected it before I even went into the movie) -- but then another one shifted
my complacency. When this happened I snapped forward in my seat and knew that
suddenly, all bets were off. I have to admit, Shyamalan got me again.
We spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, seeing life in the village,
and watching as their various secrets unfold. (Everyone in this village has
a secret. Everyone.)
As you'd expect from Shyamalan's line-up of talented character actors, everyone
in the film is rock solid. Hurt does his sensitive, calm leader very well, as
always. Adrien "I Kissed Halle Berry" Brody is amazing as mentally challenged
Noah, and you really connect with his poor soul. Phoenix is broody and determined
One thing we have come to expect in a Shyamalan movie is a stand-out performance
from someone we don't expect it from -- think Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment
in "The Sixth Sense." This time, that performance is by Bryce Dallas
Howard as Ivy. She is very, very good, and I hope to see more from her. She
manages to be determined, scared, brave, and playful as the script calls for
it, and is fairly convincing at being blind.
Lastly, there's the Obligatory M. Night Cameo. Shyamalan's idol is Alfred
Hitchcock and he is doing his best to make Hitchcock's kind of films. And since
a cameo was a staple of Hitchcock's, so it must be with Shyamalan. At least
in "The Village" it's a subtle cameo, as in "The Sixth Sense" and
"Unbreakable," not nearly as long or annoying as the one in "Signs."
So is it worth seeing? I have to say yes. Is it worth seeing on the big screen?
Yes, but make it a matinee or a second-run house. "The Village" is finely crafted
visually, with great acting and Shyamalan's distinctive brooding style, but
it drags. Shyamalan wants to be the Alfred Hitchcock of his generation. With
this film, he's gotten closer -- but just a little -- to that goal.