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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > The Village

MOVIE REVIEWS

THE VILLAGE  (2004)

Starring William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, John Christopher Jones, Frank Collison, Jayne Atkinson, Judy Greer, Fran Kranz, Michael Pitt and Jesse Eisenberg.

Screenplay by M. Night Shyamalan.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures.  108 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

The Village

It seems odd to say, but The Sixth Sense may have been the worst thing to ever happen to M. Night Shyamalan.  In it, he created a wonderful film with a sustained feel of melancholy and dread.  It was well acted, well written and truly horrifying.  It also had a genuinely shocking surprise ending, one that elevated a very good movie to a great one.  He really was able to put one over on the audience, turning everything that they had believed about the film on its head.  Comparisons that came in the movie’s wake calling him “the new Hitchcock” seemed a little premature.  However, the film was good enough that it seemed like if he kept it up, he might be able to prove that they weren’t wrong.

Since then he has made three films that have tried to top the surprise of his breakthrough, with steadily diminishing results.  Unbreakable had a weird ending that felt like a bit of a cheap trick, but at least it kind of worked in the context of the story.  The final half hour of Signs took a tense thriller and changed it into unintentional comedy.  However, that film’s ending was the picture of logical restraint compared to this new one. 

The worst part was, the first hour of the film, he was once again able to draw me into his macabre world.  The Village is an old-fashioned town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in what seems to be somewhere in the early 1800s.  The people of this small burg are farmers.  They live decent lives, tend their flocks and support old-fashioned values. 

There is a dark secret to the town, however.  In the woods surrounding them live creatures that the townspeople refer to as "those we do not speak of." (Though, grammatically, it really should be “those of whom we do not speak.”)  Even the townspeople are not sure exactly what the evil is.  They just know that they have been able to form an unspoken truce with the shadowy monsters.  The townspeople will not venture into the woods; in return, the beasts do not encroach on the community.  Suddenly, however, the creatures seem to renege on the bond.  The villagers’ small animals are being killed and sightings of mysterious shadowy forms are becoming more and more common.  

The acting is mostly very good, a little colorless only because it is required of the characters and the situation.  William Hurt is terrific as one of the town elders.  Sigourney Weaver is good as the widow lady who feels chaste passion for Hurt.  Joaquin Phoenix is fine, if just a touch too earnest, as Lucius, the bravest of the townspeople.  He is in love with Ivy, a spunky blind girl played with impressive skill by first-time starring actress Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of actor/director Ron Howard).  There is only one actor who is really off the mark.  Adrien Brody, in a performance that may cause the Academy to ask him to give back his Oscar for The Pianist, plays a mentally challenged villager with all the subtle insight of Adam Sandler.

The first time that we get a glimpse of “those we don't speak of” is truly shocking, a terrific movie scare.  Then it all starts to go horribly wrong.  The more we see and get to know about the force in the woods, the more absurd the film gets.  Shyamalan tries desperately not to just spin his wheels here, throwing in three plot “twists,” which get progressively more ridiculous.  By the time the final secret of The Village is revealed, even if you didn’t see what was coming (I certainly did), you would be frustrated that this was the best that he could come up with.  It was a piece of empty sleight of hand, a ruse done just for the sake of having a ruse.    

Maybe it’s about time that someone pulled Night aside and explained to him that he doesn’t have to pull a rabbit out of his hat every time.  The man is very skilled at creating a mood of sustained fear.  He has a keen visual sense and a playful imagination.  Try putting together a straightforward suspense film that has an ending that flows naturally from the storyline.   Stop shooting for the “gotcha” moment.  There is a very thin line between deceiving an audience and disappointing them.  (7/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.comAll rights reserved.  Posted: August 3, 2004.

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Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.comAll rights reserved.  Posted: August 3, 2004.

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