A Review of “The Village” (PG-13)

Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice and it’s shame on you. Or is it the other way around? Okay. Take what I wrote, reverse it, and somewhere in between you will find M. Night Shyamalan’s plight. 

He fooled us out of the starting gate, but the King of Plot twists shan’t be-a-foolin’ us again; at least not this time around. But, is “The Village” predictable because it misfires, or because we know Night’s up to something? That is the real question, is it not?

A review of this film is difficult to write because in order to illustrate what truly went awry, I’d have to give away far too much. Critics everywhere have probably been frustrated by the same challenge; some have been downright resentful about the fact. The plot will inevitably turn, but the question is will the audience already be there when it takes the corner screaming into the woods?

The only way to write this review is to focus on the peripheral, which means I’ll probably come across sounding about as cryptic as WWII intelligence communications. “The Village” really doesn’t fit into any genre and most attempts to categorize it would fail miserably; which explains why an entire row of twenty teenagers sitting right behind me left the theatre disappointed. The marketing campaign built it up as the scariest thing since “The Exorcist.” “The Village” isn’t a slasher movie; it’s a scary movie. It isn’t a scary movie; it’s a love story. It isn’t a love story; it’s a mystery. It isn’t a mystery; it’s a period piece. It isn’t a period piece, it’s…

Ah, can’t say that one! Instead, better just go find out for yourself.

Isn’t that the hook? Shyamalan shrouds his stories in secrecy. The marketing company in turn adds another layer of suspicion by plugging it as a horror flick. Critics grin and go along with Night’s fun, adding yet another layer of cloak and dagger darkness. Then moviegoers get in on the action, too. “Yes. It has a surprise ending,” she says with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink and off you go to fork over your hard earned cash so that you too can be in the know. Say no more; say no more! You’ve been fished in because you want to be part of the game.

The complexity of this particular genre-bending story is perhaps its downfall. A brilliant storyteller, Shaymalan is a rarity, delivering on every aspect of the film making process from screenplay to final cut. If he has a shortcoming it could be that he rushes his endings. “The Village” hastens to the finale with the same abruptness he did in “Unbreakable” and “Signs.” Otherwise, his pacing is solid, he knows his audience and manipulates them well, and he creates suspense seemingly out of thin air weaving his tales with venerable style, substance, and grace. “The Village” is no exception, an ironic tale of simplistic beauty and old-fashioned, albeit naïve, utopian values. Whether you guess the ending or not shouldn’t matter because it is delivered in a compelling way. The predictability factor of “The Village” is not necessarily a failure of story, but rather I think it has been decidedly colored and shaped by the fact we know Shyamalan is trying psyche us out. If you see a magician’s act often enough, the slight of hand ceases to mislead. Maybe it is just time for a straight story without the curves.

Newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard highlights what is otherwise an all-star cast. If she looks familiar that’s because she ought to. Her father is director Ron Howard. Shyamalan spotted her on stage in rendition of “As You Like It” and a few weeks later she had the gig. So much of the film hinges on her character, but she comes through in a very powerful way. She really reaches out to capture the audience with her choices to keep us hanging on her every emotion. When she is up, the audience is up. In love? We’re feeling the love right along with her. Frightened? And we are, too. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission, but so are those offered by veterans Joaquin Phoenix and Adrien Brody. These are very different parts for them and, again, that’s about all I can say. William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Pitt, Judy Greer, and Cherry Jones round out an ensemble that obviously believes in their story, their characters, and above all their director.

Even if I figured it out twenty minutes in, “The Village” is still a good film worth a bargain MATINEE.

From a Christian Perspective (Warning! Possible Spoilers Ahead):

The Village is a family oriented film. That’s not to say it’s good for the whole family. “Those We Do Not Speak Of” will probably give young children nightmares, but then again The Village has a “Scooby Doo-ending,” so it probably won’t be too hard on older children, depending on the child. The film is very decent and wholesome. There isn’t any foul language and there are only two scenes of minimal violence. Themes include heartache, love, courtship, marriage, hope, hardship, and the general pain of living.