NOW PLAYING: The Village

Posted: Monday, August 02, 2004

I think that some (my wife, for one) would agree that, since becoming a movie critic, I have become too emotionally involved with the possible success or failure of whatever hotly anticipated new release is currently showing. I beg to differ. I've always been too emotionally involved. It's just that I now have a forum. Take for example, this week's big gamble, The Village. There's no guarantee that it would be any good at all, but I so wanted it to be. I was actually nervous all the way to the theater. Taking into account the fact that M. Night Shyamalan totally let me down with the end of Signs, and the fact that other critics are savaging this movie left and right, I had so little hope of a good movie going experience. However, sometimes the stars all align and all the critics in the world are dead wrong. Shyamalan pulled it out, and The Village is a great time at the movies.

The problem with a filmmaker like Shyamalan, and this is an issue that's been voiced by not only his fans, but his producers as well, is that he, by hanging each of his movies on the twist, has set himself up for a major fall. Trouble is, at this point, I don't exactly know what he can do about it. The Sixth Sense had such an awesome twist, and was such a success, that Shyamalan had his formula laid out from the beginning. In his next film, Unbreakable, he stuck with the amazing twist theory, but he tried to make the story mean something and stand alone as well. It tanked. Well, tanked is harsh. It made over $80 million, but comparatively, it was a bomb. In Signs, he attempted a modern-day version of War of the Worlds and achieved a scary, moody, brilliant piece of atmospheric tension - up until the twist. That bit of plot magic that our hero-director was quickly becoming known for was like an albatross hanging over an otherwise good movie. Swing away? What kind of a twist is that? It ruined the movie. Now, with The Village, the stakes are even higher. People want the twist. They crave it. And yet, if it's not just right, they'll hang him out to dry so fast it'd make your head spin. Suffice it to say, this film satisfies . It saves a reputation damaged, in my opinion, by the substandard Signs, and provides a riveting story not seen since The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately, another success only ups the ante further, making Shyamalan's next outing even iffier.

The village, so referred to by it's residents, sits in a clearing in the middle of late nineteenth century Covington Woods. It is peaceful, orderly, and has no problems save one. It seems that the residents of the village exist at the whim of a group of terrifying creatures that inhabit the woods just beyond the village borders. The village has been at peace with the creatures for many years, but a recent spate of animal mutilations has sparked new fears. Now, in hopes of bringing back new medications from the surrounding towns, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) has volunteered to pass through the creatures' territory, banking on the fact that his pure intentions will shield him from harm.

It is difficult to discuss a movie like The Village without revealing too much. Indeed, this film exists to satisfy the twist rather than the other way around, a fact that would denigrate the movie as a whole, were the surprise not so enjoyable. The acting is top-rate, with Phoenix, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and Adrien Brody all turning in fine performances. The standout, however, has to go to newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron, upon whose portrayal of the heroic yet blind Ivy Walker the entire movie hinges. Howard's portrayal is brilliant, neither over or under-played, miraculous for a first outing.

There were definite moments in this film where I felt disappointment. "Aw, man, that's cheesy," or "Surely they could have written that better." However, as the movie progresses, I found more and more of my issues being answered; swept away by slowly revealed information. By the end, I had a barrel of half-examined disappointments, tempered by a ton of good surprises. I worry though. Shyamalan plans to soon adapt the beautiful award-winning novel, The Life of Pi, and I think that's good. He pulled it out this time, but how long can you bank on the next big twist? The Village winds up on a terrific note, but it's only a baseball bat away from a truly tragic waste of a good story. I've gotta quit worrying about this stuff. How am I ever going to make it to Alien Vs. Predator? Grade: A-

The Village is rated PG-13 for violence and scary scenes.

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