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The Village

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Bryce Howard, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt, Celia Weston, Liz Stauber, Joanna Reiner, Fran Kranz, Cherry Jones, Brendan Gleeson

Review by Jerry Saravia
3 stars out of 4

M. Night Shyamalan has been known as the new prince of suspense and horror in movies. He's also been crowned as the new Spielberg, an achievement that is still unclear to me. Prior to Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" hit, he directed two largely unknown films, one of them was "Wide Awake." After "The Sixth Sense" came the solemn "Unbreakable" and the even more deadening "Signs." Okay, so now you know I am not a big fan of the Nightman, but where is the Spielbergian comparison? Shyamalan is more geared towards suspense and atmosphere that lead to the inevitable twist ending. Spielberg makes films that are awesome in scale and sentimental, but typically he does not lend his hand to horror or suspense. So now comes the Nightman's newest suspense shocker, "The Village," a film that has already drove Internet movie fanatics wild with its ending, something which M. Night fans knew the outcome to prior to the showing of the first trailer! My, my, my, how I crave the days when nobody expected to be shocked by the double twist finale of 1955's "Diabolique," a film that ends with a warning to kids to keep mum about its secret ending. And so here comes "The Village," and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. The twist was a surprise to me, but the movie is a humanistic, scary ride into one of my favorite locations for any horror film, the forest.

Set in the 1890's, the film takes place in a village that has its own community of elders, teenagers and children. The village is Covington, Pennsylvania, presided by its patriarch, Edward Walker (William Hurt), a professor. Walker has two daughters, the shrill Kitty (Judy Greer, always great at being shrill) who is eager to get married, and the blind Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) who can see people's aura in the form of a color. There is also Lucius Hunt (Joaquim Phoenix), his widowed mother, Alice (Sigourney Weaver), and the village idiot (Adrien Brody). There is also a triangular romance, dances by candlelight, young women happily sweeping leaves off of their balconies, men worrying about wrinkling their shirts, and so on.

This village is unique in its spaciousness despite being so closed-in. The reason is that the woods surrounding the village are filled with creatures in red cloaks, also known as Those We Do Not Speak Of. There has always been an understanding between the creatures and the village people, to keep a barrier barring either party from entering each other's space. Also, the color red is forbidden since it will entice TWDNSO (which begs the question, if there is a mutual understanding between them, why would the creatures know if anyone is wearing red or keeping a red flower)? Unfortunately, something wicked has come to the town. Livestock and animals have been skinned alive and left for dead. Is it the creatures? Resourceful Lucius Hunt wants to find out and cross into the woods, but he needs permission from the elders. But there is something else beyond all that foliage. A road to an unnamed town exists where Lucius could bring back medicine (despite the fact that the village has a doctor). Since there is no medicine, children and elders sometimes die, no doubt due to sickness. Was every late 19th century village like this?

"The Village" has more up its sleeve. Think I will tell you more? Nope, no way. This is a relatively SPOILER-FREE review. Sorry Nightfans, but I cannot dispense much more info. Suffice to say, if you have seen the Nightman's other films, you can expect a few surprises here and there. Of course, something happens at the end that...well, can't say it or divulge it.

What starts out as an atmospheric horror film, using such handy devices like fog over an indecipherable horizon, close-ups of silhouetted tree branches and so on, radically becomes a different kind of film. Let's say that, not sure I can say that either. I am not a paid film critic nor was I told by any studio to keep a secret, but it would be unethical of me to say much more. I can say that the performances deliver on cue, including Adrien Brody as the unrestrained village idiot, always laughing at those damn creatures making weird sounds in the forest. William Hurt is always a marvel to behold, delivering his usual slow tempo of speech - you're always eager to hear what he has to say next. The brightest spot in the film is Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard's daughter) as the truly resourceful heroine of the film, though I can't reveal more than that. Joaquim Phoenix is a disappointment, if only because he plays a far too stolid character. Sigourney Weaver is not much better, looking a little bored due to a severely underwritten part. By contrast, Cherry Jones as one of the village women sparkles and seems to be occupying a real time and place.

As compared to the Nightman's other flicks, "The Village" is far superior to "Signs" or "Unbreakable." It has the sentiment and the pulsating heart of "The Sixth Sense," focusing on the director's penchant for families drawn together by unforeseen circumstances. The Nightman also knows how to evoke scares and shock tactics like a true magician. And like any magician, he certainly has a lot up his sleeve.

Copyright 2004 Jerry Saravia

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