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Alex Stroup, editor

The Village

Can M. Night Shyamalan save Disney's summer?

Friday, July 30, 2004
by Alex Stroup, Screen reViews editor

I'll just get this out of the way: This is going to be a pretty difficult review to write. Not because I can't decide what I think of the movie, but because it isn't just my role to tell you what I think of a movie, but also to justify my thinking.

I'm not going to be able to do much of the justification. About a third of the way into The Village, things start to take turns and I can't even begin to hint at events after that without giving things away that are best enjoyed by the unsuspecting. If you've seen The Sixth Sense or, to a lesser extent, Unbreakable you know what I'm talking about.

Compounding all this is that the secrecy surrounding this film is being kept tight. You'll see this review on MousePlanet around 6 a.m. Friday morning. Disney didn't let me watch it until around 10 hours before that; not exactly a lot of time to let my thoughts steep. I'll plow ahead though, giving my impressions with vague support, such is the burden of the terrible responsibility I've taken in telling you whether to watch a movie or not.


© Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

M. Night Shyamalan makes M. Night Shyamalan movies. Unbreakable wasn't a Bruce Willis movie and Signs was not a Mel Gibson movie; they were M. Night Shyamalan movies. The Village stars Adrien Brody, Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, and William Hurt. But this is—say it with me—an M. Night Shyamalan movie. These fine actors all get a moment or two to do some fine acting, but that's hardly important, as style and method reign supreme.

These characters all inhabit an unnamed isolated village; isolated by horrific creatures that occupy the surrounding woods, preventing access to “the towns.” The villagers seem to be living in an uneasy truce with these creatures, with elaborate rules for keeping them appeased: Some colors are to be avoided, villagers don't go into the woods and creatures will stay out of the village, and constant watch is kept at the border.


© Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

Otherwise, though, they seem to be living serene lives, going about the daily tasks of farming and the bigger tasks of weddings, community meals, and natural deaths. Signs are, though, that the truce may be faltering when dead, partially skinned animals start showing up around the village every morning.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Lucius Hunt, a young man not entirely at ease with the way things are. He's uneasy because he senses that there are many secrets being kept, and the recent death of a village child by infection has given him the goal of risking a trip to The Towns to bring back medicines.

The town elders (William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver among them) won't allow the trip, even after Lucius discovers that Noah, the village idiot, has been making repeated forays into the woods. Noah is played by Adrien Brody, best actor Academy Award winner. Like most of the characters, Brody gets little screen time and generally hams it up pretty good. He manages, though, to bring the character some depth and purpose other than just playing court jester.

All of these are really secondary characters to Ivy Walker, the blind daughter of the lead elder (Hurt) and love of Lucius's life. Whatever human spirit is to be found in this movie is found in Ivy, played well by Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard's daughter in her most significant role to date).


© Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

Unfortunately, where Howard struggles to project something real, all of the other actors eventually fall victim to being in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Shyamalan again shows himself to be a visual genius with a thorough understanding of the tricks of suspense that other filmmakers seem to have forgotten. However, he also shows himself (increasingly with each film) to have little skill with characters and their development. For Shyamalan, it seems that the ultimate goal would be to find ways to make the audience jump without even putting people on the screen.

There is a balance that needs to be maintained in doing a “twist” picture. First, it really helps if a twist is unexpected—and a Shyamalan twist will never again be as unexpected as it was in The Sixth Sense. Second, when the twist finally comes, it should augment what has come before. In The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the twist came without violating the story that had already been told. When done poorly, the twist may give a momentary exhilaration of discovery, but then leave you realizing that you just spent 90 minutes watching a lie (“…and then Johnny woke up, realizing it had all been a dream. The end”).

The twist in The Village is nowhere near the worst of the genre, but it doesn't even come close to elegence of The Sixth Sense. Where that ending took you full circle—making you want to watch the beginning to see how the truth was woven into the surface of the entire film—all The Village does is take a sharp 90-degree turn that just cannot provide the emotional satisfaction.

Some people will watch The Village and be tickled by its audacity, while others will be disgusted by its ridiculousness. Personally, I fall somewhere closer to the latter—but the audience reaction at my screening indicated many were closer to the former.

In the end, I would recommend seeing The Village because even if the entirety isn't satisfying, Shyamalan does provide an education on the way suspense should be done. And if you're going to go see it, go see it opening weekend because once someone spoils it for you, there will be no reason left.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


MOVIE DETAILS

The Village is a Buena Vista Pictures release.

Wide theatrical release: Friday, July 30, 2004

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver.

Rated PG-13 for a scene of violence and frightening situations.

Running time: 120 minutes.

Alex's Rating: 7 out of 10.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.

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