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The Village

01/10/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy The Village in the USA - or Buy The Village in the UK

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One expected a terrific output from immensely talented writer-director M. Night Shyamalan concerning his latest supernatural saga The Village. Unfortunately for the normally resilient filmmaker, The Village is a meandering and morbid chiller that is a labored muddy vision of Shyamalan's usual insightful and involving hedonism.

The Village (2004) Touchstone Pictures
1 hour 47 minutes.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Adrian Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Michael Pitt, Bryce Dallas Howard. Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

One expected a terrific output from immensely talented writer-director M. Night Shyamalan concerning his latest supernatural saga The Village. Riding the revered reputation thanks to previous frightful fare that captured movie audiences with solid and solemn gems The Sixth Sense,Unbreakable and Signs, Shyamalan had mighty big expectations to fill with his creepy current offering.

Unfortunately for the normally resilient filmmaker, The Village is a meandering and morbid chiller that is a labored muddy vision of Shyamalan's usual insightful and involving hedonism. Surprisingly, the film's top notch cast (as well as its director's generic script) cannot elevate this plodding and progressively weightless psychological thriller beyond its rudimentary means. This shockfest is a tedious bore and doesn't even begin to ignite the protrusive passion that trademark Shyamalan films are known for in content and creativity.



Invariably, The Village is a solitary thrill-maker in search of an imaginative spark. This hackneyed horror show has all the momentum of an arthritic turtle with bad knees. The movie is gratingly slow in its meditative drive and offers a cheesy forum of high camp hokum that is uncharacteristic of Shyamalan's cinematic cynical surge. Whatever Hitchcockian comparisons being made in reference to Shyamalan's filmmaking touch may be put on hold thanks to this stiff excursion that teeters on in a profound thud.

The scare factor hardly registers and the skin-crawling tendencies are considerably weak-kneed. For a moviemaker with a gifted gumption for challenging filmgoers with his brand of petrifying pathos, Shyamalan's The Village is a mere staid diversion that fails to cough up the intelligible seedy goods.

The Village is supposed to be presented as some 19th century American horrifying hamlet where taking a spontaneous stroll outside the unknown boundaries can be a deadly deed to venture. Hence, the residents are encouraged to stay within the village's outskirts. The belief is that the surrounding ominous woods are packed with evil-minded elements. As long as the villagers coexist in the community without disturbing whatever dangerous encounters there are in the encompassing woods then things should be fine.

Covington (the village's name) native Lucias (Joaquin Phoenix) dares to travel outside of the village's restricted geographic location in an effort to obtain medical supplies from another place. Since there was a death in the area, Lucias feels that it is worth making the trip through the torturous woods in order to retrieve the medicine-related material needed to prevent other deaths in Covington.

But Lucias is warned to stay put particularly when the village starts to be bombarded by an array of sinister forces looking for some surly excitement. Does this signify that maybe someone has violated the understanding of remaining in the village thus inviting the wrath of the wooded intruders?

Film followers of Shyamalan's big screen work will ultimately be besieged with his trademark of scattered clues and the obligatory - big twist - that are featured in The Village. Much like the aforementioned The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has some perverse fun trying to keep the viewers second-guessing concerning this patchwork puzzle of mystery. This is all well and dandy but what remains quite unsatisfying is the eventual build up to the tepid tension that seems rather mechanical in its execution. It's nice that Shyamalan wants to draw out the disillusionment from the weary protagonists and their dire predicament.

But somehow The Village misses the mark because its emotional energy isn't as exhilarating in its jumpy mode as one would expect. There's never any convincing indication of experiencing that sudden jolt that takes the audience's tattered psyche into another realm. This is a draining and drippy display of a sinister story that needed more punch in its arsenal of intrigue. The edginess in The Village is a manufactured dramatic iron ball that has no worthwhile bounce in its step.

Phoenix, who appeared in Shyamalan's Signs, is resourceful as the leading lad with a taste of antiestablishment forethought toward the village's reluctance to shake up the belief system of its inherent fears. And newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Oscar-winning director and former 60s and 70s sitcom child star Ron Howard) is uniquely pleasing as the blinded Ivy who ironically can see the clear picture that her fellow apprehensive citizens refuse to grasp.

It is Ivy that has the inner strength and instinctual guidance that makes her a celebrated soul that we automatically sympathize with in stride. Adrian Brody (fresh from his two-year screen absence as an Oscar winner for the poignant Holocaust drama The Pianist) plays mentally-challenged Noah who's an innocent spirit caught up in the constant mayhem. And as the town's statesman, William Hurt is a reassuring presence. In fact, the impressive cast is great window dressing for this jittery exposition but their participation is wasted in a provocative wannabe that purports to stimulate.

Let's just hope that M. Night Shyamalan's next project will be something that tip toes into other arenas of convention. Certainly, this intuitive filmmaker is capable of offering adventurous movies that can go beyond the standby eerie tall tales. Maybe it's time that Shyamalan spreads his creative juices and taps into other storytelling genres that may heighten his cache as a risky artist with versatility. With The Village, he's just wallowing in safe delusional territory.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2004. All rights reserved.

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