The Village

By this time, people know to expect some mind-bending twist in the films of M. Night Shyamalan.  His first film, The Sixth Sense, was by far the best.  Unbreakable and Signs were, to his credit, attempts to broaden his reach while trying to keep his trademark twist, but both suffered from a sense of high expectations (particularly Unbreakable).  He didn't make a film that his fans wanted to see, so regardless of how good it was, it sucked.  One thing that Shyamalan excels at is creating a tense atmosphere.  There is a palpable sense of dread in the surrounding environs, and it is this psychological fear that creeps out the audience, and works so well in his films.  The first half of The Village is steeped in this.  The Village takes place in a remote village, untouched by time, surrounded by a forbidding forest.  The inhabitants of Covington have a truce with the "monsters" in the forest where the people will stay in the village, and the monsters will stay in the forest.

This all changes when Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix, Brother Bear, Signs), deeply affected by the death of a child, asks permission to go through the forest to fetch 'medicines' from a nearby town.  The village elders, led by Edward Walker (William Hurt, Tuck Everlasting, Changing Lanes), reject his request.  They moved to the village to live away from the crime and evils that festered in the towns.  Life begins to change for the village as the monsters begin encroaching upon the village, walking through at night and leaving skinned animal carcasses and red slashes across the doors.  The sense of dread grows amongst the villagers and the audience.  Still, there is time for Lucius to fall in love with Kitty (Bryce Dallas Howard, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Apollo 13), Walker's blind daughter.

The Village chugs along nicely then just keeps going.  Shyamalan paces himself so thoroughly that instead of moving the story beyond the impending sense of dread, he just keeps the same pace until it begins to grow dull.  Not much happens in The Village, and given its long running time, events seem to move even slower.  Shyamalan has never been that great at dialogue, and here saddles his actors with a formal, archaic way of speaking that is more distracting than anything else.  And the twist that finally arrives is not much of a twist at all, and is pretty easy to figure out if one really wanted to.  The last act of the film leaves more of a "that's all?" than a "wow, how cool" impression.

Shyamalan is good at coaxing understated, deliberate performances from his cast, and The Village is no exception.  The biggest discovery here is Howard (Ron Howard's daughter), who gives a strong performance as Kitty.  The one big distraction from her performance is the fact that Ivy sees the "colors" of people and what she has to do in the latter half of the film.  It is dramatic, but also kind of ridiculous.  The stilted, overly flowery dialogue does add to the creepiness factor, and Phoenix, Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver (Holes, Tadpole) all seem very nice and very creepy at the same time.  It's just that Shyamalan takes all this time making sure that all the environmental factors are in place, but then neglects to make a compelling story.  For his next movie, he should probably do something where there is no unexpected twist.  That would really surprise audiences.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, Rated PG-13 for a scene of violence and frightening images.

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