M. Night Shyamalan's new film, "The Village," had a lot to live up to. After the writer-director's successes with supernatural thrillers like "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" and "Signs," audiences were primed with high expectations.
Bryce Dallas Howard and William Hurt (Touchstone)
Sadly, "The Village" won't meet them.
The story focuses on a small community, led by a council of tight-lipped elders, in the late 1800s. The community's close-knit village exists in open fields hemmed in by Coventry Woods, which elders have instructed the village folk never to breach lest "those we do not speak of" become enraged and destroy the village.
"Those we do not speak of" apparently are some sort of monster—that doesn't like the color red for reasons we're never told. Audiences get glimpses of the monster fairly early in the film, as Shyamalan strings us along.
Laced among this conceit is a love story between one of the town's quieter but braver souls, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), and Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of the chief elder Edward Walker (William Hurt).
Complicating this story is the involvement of Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), a disturbed young man who carries a torch for Ivy and cares not about the monsters.
If only the "supernatural" element to this film were as interesting and attractive as the story between Lucius and Ivy. In retrospect, Shyamalan should have focused on their love story and called it a day. Instead, Lucius basically falls out of the last half of the film, and the monsters really aren't scary enough to warrant the PG-13 rating.
The frightful moments are few and far between, and the "big twist" is here generously named. The "hints" that point to the twist aren't nearly as interesting here as they have been in Shyamalan's previous films, and his method for revealing "the truth" is more heavy-handed than it should have been.
All that said, the film isn't a disaster. Shyamalan still displays his masterly sense of rhythm, and he assembled a stellar cast (that unfortunately was put in the service of material beneath its talents).
Phoenix is among the best actors of his generation, and the arrival of Bryce Dallas Howard on the scene is welcomed indeed. The daughter of director Ron Howard essentially carries the last half of the film, and she is a redeeming quality of the whole enterprise.
"The Village" is generating some discussion for its alleged reshoots to change the ending after the original ending was leaked, as well as its possible meta-commentary on People In Charge (i.e. the U.S. government) and Fear (i.e. terrorism).
M. Night Shyamalan's own success is his worst nightmare. With each of his films, the storytelling stakes have been raised such that he can't just tell a story; he has to tell the story to end all stories.
He didn't do so with "The Village," and he won't ever do it. But I'm confident this master of suspense will live to write and direct another day—unless those we do not speak of get him first.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for scenes of violence and frightening situations. Reviewer's Note: It's not that scary.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Lucius Hunt: Joaquin Phoenix; Ivy Walker: Bryce Dallas Howard; Noah Percy: Adrien Brody; Edward Walker: William Hurt; Alice Hunt: Sigourney Weaver.
The movie's official Web site is here.
Our review of M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" is here.