Adrien Brody, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Watson, John Christopher Jones, Frank Collison, Jayne Atkinson, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Michael Pitt, Jesse Eisenberg, Charlie Hofheimer"/>
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With: Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Watson, John Christopher Jones, Frank Collison, Jayne Atkinson, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Michael Pitt, Jesse Eisenberg, Charlie Hofheimer
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a scene of violence and frightening situations
Running Time: 108
Date: 07/26/2004

The Village (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Thick Red Line

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Taking place in a valley surrounded by ominous woods, M. Night Shyamalan's The Village isn't the type of place anyone would like to live. It's always overcast and a little damp and everyone always seems to be dying. One prominent citizen, Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) is slightly psychotic, and another, Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) is permanently blind.

Oh, and if anyone goes into the woods, giant red-cloaked porcupine-like creatures will kill them.

The Village opens at the funeral of a young boy; the death date on his gravestone reads 1897. The most fearless young man in the village, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), approaches the council of elders, asking their permission to journey into the next town for much-needed medicine. The elders (played by William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones and others) say no; there has been too much death already.

If life isn't miserable enough, the elders have also established a set of strict and bizarre rules, such as that no one will wear or carry anything red because it attracts Those We Don't Speak Of. (A kind of vomit-yellow is The Safe Color.) No one must cross the perimeter, but the village's boys have developed a game in which they test each other's bravery by seeing who can stand the longest with their backs to the woods.

Even with these rules, the uneasy truce between the humans and the porcupine monsters has been broken lately because of Noah Percy wandering into the woods to pick red berries. The creatures have broken into the village, skinned various farm animals and left red slashes on people's doors as a warning.

As with Shyamalan's previous three horror/suspense films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs), there's more than meets the eye. Describing any further comes dangerously close to giving it away. Suffice it to say that fans should look for the twist, then a twist upon the twist, and then another one.

In fact, it's all a bit much. We're left wondering if The Village is a horror film or a parable about Non-compassionate Conservatism. Unlike many of the horror directors he's compared to and draws from (Hitchcock, Craven, etc.) Shyamalan doesn't particularly seem to believe in any of his horror tales. He doesn't pull them from a hidden dark side or use them to re-channel his frustrations and obsessions. Watching them is more like accepting a challenge or playing a game -- which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's just a little less genuine.

At the same time, Shyamalan is clearly a talented director and has a definite sense for making superior cinema. He favors long shots, offscreen movement and noise and has a flair for open space and weather. He loves to borrow Steven Spielberg's method of showing characters reacting to something horrific or wonderful just before showing us what the thing might be, as well as Wes Craven's technique of quick, sudden movements in the background or foreground.

As a writer, though, he looks only to sideswipe the audience with his twists, even if they don't hold up to close scrutiny, as was the case with Signs as well as The Village. While The Sixth Sense involved us in its characters, The Village hinges entirely on the big twist. Shyamalan just can't wait to tell us about it. Moreover, Shyamalan makes a very poor author of period melodramas. He makes the 19th century language sound "authentic" simply by doing away with contractions. Characters say, "I am" this and "I do not" that. William Hurt is the only actor on hand wooden enough to get his lips around it and make it sound like anything.

Of the rest of the cast -- most of which seems overawed and out of place -- beautiful Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard's daughter) makes a striking debut as the movie's spunky heroine, Ivy, even if she makes a fairly unconvincing blind girl.

The true test of a twist movie like The Village comes with multiple viewings. The Sixth Sense surprised its first time and impressed its second time. The Village may or may not surprise the first time and certainly doesn't invite a second viewing at all. In other words, it's a nice place to visit...

DVD Details: At the end of 2004, The Village appears to be one of the top vote getters among critics making lists of the year's worst pictures, so I'm not sure who's going to care about this disc, from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. Even so, it comes with deleted scenes that supposedly provide more clues to the film's ultimate purpose, as well as a photogallery, a featurette, Shyamalan's home movies and a photo gallery. Buena Vista has also released a separate disc, The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, a 124-minute documentarywhich apparently interviews the filmmakers "friends and neighbors," but presumably not the filmmaker himself. This kind of hype could be the reason behind the critics' brutal hatred of thisfilm; Shyamalan may be talented, but he is most certainly not the nextHitchcock or Spielberg.

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