Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
A difficult movie to describe without revealing too much, The Village, is a 19th century period piece and thriller about the effects of fear on a small community - I think they may have been making an analogy to modern times but I can't discuss that without spoiling the film. I can say that every shot, every single frame in The Village is gorgeous - cinematography, production design, costumes, and exteriors are all so beautiful that the look of the film alone is reason enough to go to a theater and see it in 35mm - this film will lose a lot if transferred to DVD or video. If you read many of my reviews, you know that the visuals -- what's up there on that big screen -- is, in my opinion, the single most important factor in determining the impact of the film. Another compelling reason to go is a stunning debut performance by Bryce Dallas Howard as Ivy, a courageous and passionate blind girl - as a newcomer she's probably a long shot to win an Oscar but that's what was on my mind as I walked out of the theater. The cast as a whole is superb: in his best performance to date, Adrien Brody plays Ivy's mischievous, retarded friend; William Hurt's great as her righteous, tormented father. A director of M. Night Shyamalan's stature (he did The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs) attracts talent and it shows. The basic set-up is that a group of people live in an isolated village surrounded by mysterious predators. Their boundaries are well defined and marked -- they are not to go beyond the village limits or terrible things will happen. The boundaries are marked by yellow flags and paint (the good color - notice that they also wear a lot of yellow) while red is the forbidden color since it attracts the predators. The good color/bad color -- and similar things -- struck me as a little corny but, all things considered, that's no big deal.
As in The Sixth Sense and Signs, M. Night Shyamalan's scary set-ups don't grab me as much as they are supposed to but I think that's just me -- these movies are scary enough for most people. His strengths are his abilities to concoct stories with elegant twists - he never fails to leave me thinking that I wish I had thought of this or that turn in the plot - as well as his high standards as a visual artist. While The Village is my new favorite -- Unbreakable is a close second -- all of his movies have clever stories. This one sets a new high as visual art -- Roger Deakins deserves credit for the stunning cinematography -- Tom Foden for production design. There isn't one bad looking scene in this movie but one that really grabbed me shows Ivy - who's blind - being chased through the forbidden forest - not only does the music and the acting build the drama very well but the scene is so beautifully shot - they intersperse shots of the sky, her, water, the predator - it not only worked so well dramatically but gave the viewer a delightful trip into this lush but frightening landscape.
Getting back to his stature in Hollywood -- due to the huge box-office and critical success of The Sixth Sense and Signs, he has enormous discretion and clout - not many directors could assemble this cast. But that cuts both ways. The flip side of having so much juice in Hollywood is that no producer or studio exec can tell him that he needs to collaborate with another writer. I think he would be well served to work with a writer who's good with dialog. Example: in one scene where Ivy and two others are walking, scared out of their wits, in the forbidden forest, she said, as she clutched a small pouch, something like, "the magic rocks will protect us." The theater erupted with laughter -- not the desired response. There are at least a half dozen similar moments of campy dialog -- things that someone with a good ear could have fixed. Don't get me wrong - I love the movie - the plusses greatly outweigh the minuses. Don't miss it while it's still in theaters.
Photographs are copyright Touchstone Pictures.
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