* * * (Guest review by Harrison Cheung, Movie Gurus) 

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.

Haven’t we seen this movie before? Without giving away too much about the “twist” in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, suffice it to say that the twist is practically deducible from the trailer.

From the strange, stilted cadence of speech of the village elders as if they were speaking English for the first time to a couple of telltale clues, Shyamalan’s formula seems to have been exhausted. The biggest problem with The Village is that it doesn’t stand up to Shyamalan’s previous efforts. When you’re dealing with the supernatural (Sixth Sense) or the paranormal (Signs), the audience gets to suspend belief and imagine the possibilities. But there are no such unusual circumstances here. Set in a turn of the century village hermetically bound by forbidding woods, The Village and its inhabitants are more like a quaint Amish community, out of synch and out of touch to be truly scary.

"The movie's twist is practically deducible from the trailer . . ."

Casting is Shyamalan’s strong suit. Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard are wonderful as the young leads. Howard plays Ivy, a blind girl with almost an otherworldly face – like a Tori Amos portrait. Phoenix stars as Lucius, a quiet solemn young man who is anxious to breach the borders of their village to get medicine for their sick and injured. William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver also star as village elders, wearing their frumpy 19th century clothing with a weary dignity. And as the village idiot, we have Adrien Brody, who giggles and fiendishly laughs at danger and the weirdness in the woods.

But there’s something odd about this village. We are told that the village has an uneasy peace with the creatures in the woods. The village elders each have a locked trunk of secrets. And the children are taught to fear the colour red. In fact, their border is decorated with a flurry of yellow flags. But when some mutilated animals are found in the fields, panic sets in – has this peace been broken?

The best scene in The Village is a wildly romantic scene. At night, the village is in panic with everyone running to their shelters after a warning bell has been sounded. Ivy stands at the doorway with her hands outstretched, waiting for Lucius to come to her. Because she is blind, she doesn’t see a creature closing in but at the very last moment, Lucius runs past and grabs her hand. It’s a great moment of literal swooning.

If only the rest of the movie had that kind of thrill. After the highly effective atmosphere of Signs, it seems as if Shyamalan went low-tech with The Village as some of the forest shots looked liked they came from The Blair Witch Project. It’s a shame that such a great cast ends up parading in Shyamalan’s weakest script and story. It’s a joke and a twist that we’ve heard before.

(Guest reviewer Harrison Cheung is a regular writer for Movie Gurus. Reviews of several regular contributors to The Sci-Fi Page appear on this site - go there now!)

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