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The Village
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   M. Night Shyamalan (Writer/Director)
Genre:   Suspense
Released:   Released July 30, 2004
Review Date:   August 04, 2004
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

Time to settle into another film by M. Night Shyamalan. Let's go down our M. Night Checklist, shall we?

  1. Moody filming.
  2. A plot that is not afraid to take its time to unfold.
  3. Exemplary performances by some very talented actors, usually better than they've ever been before.
  4. A spooky situation.
  5. A SHOCKING twist.
  6. 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 Of."

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 Cunningham" Howard).

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 effective.

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.

The Stand-Out

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.

Gary Mitchel was frightened by The Blair Witch Project. Yes, Gary was. Not Joe Crowe, who's writing this byline. Not even for a minute.

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