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

2004, 108 Minutes, Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Description: The Village takes place in a nameless village somewhere in the eastern region of the US, possibly a cult of some sort, and is set in an undetermined time that looks as if it could be the mid-1800s. An uneasy truce between the villagers and the enigmatic denizens of the surrounding forest has been in place for an unspecified time, unbroken "for many years". We don't see the beings for a good portion of the film, which allows our imaginations to build them up as we speculate: Werewolves? Aliens? Goblins? One thing's for sure, they're large and predatory, and if you cross their boundaries they're also vengeful. So naturally, some idiot villager decides to mess with this pact and breach the woods. Now, at the worst possible moment, a young man is critically wounded and in need of more advanced medicine from the towns beyond the forest, but of course that would mean aggravating the creatures even more and endangering the life of the person who goes to fetch the drugs.

We unfortunately managed to predict the two major “twists” in The Village well ahead of their time. As you might guess, this kind of spoiled the movie for us . . .

To be honest, we are of those filmgoers who seldom manage to predict plot twists and surprise endings. Or make that: we seldom manage to outguess movies that play fair (like Sixth Sense, The Crying Game, the original 1960s Planet of the Apes) instead of cheat  usually the “brain in the vat” type of story such as Fight Club, Vanilla Sky and Identity that thing about the serial killer at the abandoned motel during a rainy night starring John Cusack. Then you get movies in which the surprise endings make no damned sense whatsoever like the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, but that’s a different story altogether.

"Maybe M. Night should forget this whole 'plot twist' business altogether . . ."

A great plot twist makes one go: “Wow! I should have seen that coming, but I didn’t!” Cheating plot twists make one go: “That’s just stupid and contrived.” The Village made me go: “It’ll be really dumb if [PLOT SPOILER – SORT OF – OMITTED] happens.” And then that happens, twice.

In fairness, the surprise twists in The Village never fell under the “that’s just plain stupid!” category such as M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Also, The Village isn’t quite as bad as critics made it out to be after sitting through so many recent hysterical blockbusters (Chronicles of Riddick) I rather liked the understatedness of it all. So what if the actors all appear constipated? It was the 19th century, fer crying out loud! And we also liked James Newton Howard’s “hey, I can do a Philip Glass score too” soundtrack. The photography was also appropriately moody.

But these are all production value issues. Like Shyamalan’s previous Unbreakable, this is an easy movie to admire, but all the elements do not necessarily gel. After Sixth Sense one goes into a Shyamalan movie expecting a plot twist of some sort, but unfortunately Shyamalan is all too keen to play this game and provide us with one even though they turn out to be inconsequential (Unbreakable), silly (Signs) or just plain predictable (The Village).

Maybe he should forget the whole “plot twist” business and focus on his strengths as a film-maker. Signs for instance may have been downright silly, but it had some genuinely scary and atmospheric bits (even if he cribbed whole scale sequences from Night of the Living Dead). The same goes for The Village: despite the vehement response of many critics, the film isn’t quite as bad as they made it out to be. Like Spielberg’s A.I. the poor ending just tends to destroy everything that went before it, which is unfortunate.


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