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The Village
2004 - PG-13 (for scenes of violence and frightening situations) - 108 Mins.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Producer: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Brendan Gleeson, Judy Greer, Jayne Atkinson, Michael Pitt, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, Fran Kranz
Review by: Joseph Kastner
Official Site: thevillage.movies.go.com/
   

I have a sixth sense about this forest...
For those wanting to know not of the film’s secrets
This review must not be seen …

Never enter the review
That is where the spoilers wait …

These are the rules of watcher of the woods …

Heed this warning now
For they are coming …

In the last couple of years, the supernatural thriller genre has belonged mainly to one man: writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Though several have tried to copy his style of filmmaking and the signature twist endings, few have developed the same kind of success that he currently enjoys, whether it be the numbers at the box office or the fan base his films have built up. Ever since 1999’s surprise hit, 'The Sixth Sense', M. Night Shyamalan has been scaring movie-goers across the world with his takes on ghosts, superheroes and aliens but after several years it seems he may be giving the old gig a break. The latest rumblings from Hollywood saying that 'The Village' may be the last thriller in awhile as his next project is set to be the film adaptation of the hit novel, 'The Life of Pi'. Preferably he would like to go out on top with the genre he made his own playground but that is all up to how the American public receive it, either as another success or a failure.

The story centers on an isolated group of villagers who find themselves confined to their town by the mysterious creatures that roam the woods that encircle them. In the year 1897, the village of Covington, Pennsylvania can be seen as the prime example of a utopian society – there is no violence, no greed, and all work together in upholding the vision of hope that has driven the villagers to bountiful blessings, something the elders of the town believe will continue through the leadership of their children. Covington, to the untrained eye, may seem perfect but the element of fear still dwells within the occupants of the town. What would inhabitants of a utopian society such as this have to fear? “Those we do not speak of” … red hooded creatures that reside in the woods and make raids on the town when they feel they have been threatened. None have the courage to venture beyond the forbidden border, except Lucius Hunt, the head strong yet reserved son of Alice Hunt, one of the town elders. Lucius feels compelled to defy the boundaries of the village but at the same time he dares not leave out of the fear, the only one he has, that harm will come to Ivy Walker, the blind daughter of the leading town elder with whom he has fallen deeply in love with. But when an accident occurs in the village and Lucius is found deeply hurt, Ivy demands that she be given permission to enter the woods and obtain medicine from the nearby towns.

The story for 'The Village' suffers from an acute identity crisis in that it plays out more like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone then usual Shyamalan thriller audiences have come associate his films with. That is not to say that it doesn’t try, in fact the first half is quite engaging, it’s just that it fails to ends the same way. Another Shyamalan thriller, 'The Sixth Sense', shares a similar trait with this film, the less then surprising twist at the end. If 'The Village' was able to have as genuine and masterfully orchestrated a plot as 'The Sixth Sense' had then it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, Shyamalan demonstrates that either he is losing his once golden touch or he is running low on decent material to scare audiences with.

With as talented a group of performers as is seen in 'The Village', the most high-profile cast ever assembled by director M. Night Shyamalan, you would think it would no problem for a film with the least orchestrated storyline to be raised to the level of a tolerable feature but that isn’t true here. Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of director Ron Howard, makes a surprisingly brilliant debut in the role of Ivy Walker, the blind daughter of leading town elder. All Shyamalan films contain a lead role that tests even the most skilled of actors and Howard is able to tackle the role easily without showing once any inability to rise to the challenge, which indicates she could be a rising star in Hollywood if she continues to give prime performances such as this. Joaquin Phoenix, in the role of Lucius Hunt, demonstrates that he can lead a film with an engaging and emotionally driven performance that goes way beyond the role given to him in 'Signs'. And Adrien Brody gives an emotionally charged roller coaster performance as the mentally challenged Noah. There are times where he can make you laugh, make cry, have you feel sorry for him only to turn around and do something that provokes the opposite effect with the audience. The character of Noah is the combination of both the talent of Brody and dexterous construction from Shymalan’s script. The problem with the cast is that there are too many of them for the audience to keep track of each individual character plot. The brilliance about Shyamalan’s past films was that he kept the group of characters relatively small in order to allow the audience to singularly focus on the actions of the main characters and not have them confused by separate character developments. The filmmaker diverts from his usually agenda and that in effect hurts the film’s script deeply.

Overall, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan trades in his philanthropic messages on humanity and supernatural fantasies brought to life for cheap scares and a story that may turn out to be an accidental rip off of a classic sci-fi television series. Though Shyamalan makes no direct assertions within the nearly two hour feature and quite possibly leaves this up to interpretation, there is the slight assumption that 'The Village' may be a political commentary on the current climate of the United States after September 11th.

What evidence within the framework of the film would support this theory? For starters, the color coded system the villagers develop, yellow to indicate safety and red to imply fear and danger, overtly resembles the terrorism warning levels developed by Homeland Security after the attacks on September 11th. The creatures that wander the woods and raid the town when threatened are nothing more then false reports developed by the elders to keep the townspeople in fear and prevent them from leaving the village, which may be a reference to the accusations made by the liberals about the Bush administration whenever they release a terror alert. And the most convenient piece of evidence lies in the name of the lead elder who orchestrates the entire façade: Walker, which may or may not be an allusion to the current commander in chief’s middle name. Granted the deception was in an effort to preserve innocence but in the minds of some individuals, deception is deception no matter the reason.

Even if that theory is proven correct, only a hand full of individuals will probably pick up on that message and doesn’t affect a person’s perception of the film much if one disagrees with the assertion that may or may not be made. In other aspects of the film, James Newton Howard is once again able to calibrate a successful and chilling musical score that works directly in sync with the actions on screen, as he has been able to do in all of Shyamalan’s films in the past. And even though Shyamalan’s engaging sense of direction allows the psychological intensity of the film to remain intact through nearly the entire presentation, the less then surprising outcomes makes it out to be all for naught. There are three twist endings to the film: the first seems misplaced as it totally eliminates the element of fear that is associated with the creatures, the second isn’t so much a problem as it is obvious especially if you’re one who pays close attention to certain characters, and the final twist gives you the feeling as though you were watching an episode of The Twilight Zone, leaving the audience neither shocked nor amazed, just swindled. But the film’s most disappointing aspect is the fact that the audience is left at the end with nothing; no fear, no hope. 'The Village' is the first Shyamalan thriller that eliminates the sense of fear movie-goers would take home with them when it reveals the creatures weren’t real. This was the key that made Shymalan thrillers classics to so many people. Whether it is political allegory or just pure coincidence, anyway you slice it 'The Village' is a drawn out disappointment.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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