The Village

In The Village, going into the woods leads to much worse. It’s there, beyond the marked boundaries and towering sentries that they live, creatures who haunt the woods and the dreams of the neighboring villagers. An unspoken treaty separates the creatures from the villagers, an agreement that has kept the people of Covington, Pennsylvania safe from harm.


What happens when that treaty is broken makes for occasionally riveting viewing in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, a morality tale laced with secrets and things that go bump in the night. The director of The Sixth Sense and Signs takes us back to a simpler era when people and romance took their time; when parents tucked children into their beds with cautionary tales about boogeymen hiding under the bed.

Shyamalan is a master storyteller, even when his story isn’t as masterful. Audiences expecting the customary Shyamalan twist won’t be disappointed, even if the filmmaker forces us to jump through numerous hoops to enjoy the reward. Shyamalan dishes up a terrific one-two punch, but drags out the obvious to the point of exacerbation. The Village wears out its welcome a full ten minutes before the final credits roll.

What precedes that final ten minutes is a skillfully crafted exercise in paranoia, complete with a heartfelt romantic triangle that sets the stage for the film’s many surprises and handful of letdowns. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Lucius, the grown son of Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver), a widow who hasn’t experienced love in ages but sees it in the eyes of her son. The object of his affection is Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the blind daughter of elder and Covington founder Edward Walker (William Hurt).

The nature of the story allows Shyamalan to loosen the reigns, giving his characters enough breathing room to occupy rather than pass through the frame. There’s great pleasure in watching the budding romance blossom between Lucius and Ivy, finding the writer-director in a rare, playful mood. Their courtship adds levity and hope to what we perceive as a desperate situation, one complicated by jealousy and a search for the truth.

Shyamalan’s track record forces us to question everything we see, hoping to stay up with if not ahead of the filmmaker. This self-imposed scrutiny forces Shyamalan to work overtime, and more than ever his fatigue is evident during the film’s final moments. When Lucius is wounded, Edward allows Ivy to breach the treaty to travel to another village and bring back medicine.

Ivy’s journey is vital to Shyamalan’s payoff, but once we arrive at this point, the film has no place to go. Try telling that to Shyamalan, who beats this thoroughbred hoping it will cross the finish line just one more time.

Speaking of revelations, The Village is blessed by the presence of Bryce Dallas Howard, a fiery, red-headed bundle of energy and emotion, whose performance is filled with honesty and real concern. Howard never plays Ivy as a victim but as a woman of means. She may be blind (she can see auras), but Ivy sees more than anyone in The Village. Howard’s transformation from a strong- willed tomboy to a full-fledged creature killer is truly astounding.

With his intense gaze and dark, brooding looks, Phoenix perfectly conveys the spirit of a young man searching for something more in his life. Lucius is constantly testing his boundaries, looking for excuses to venture beyond the path that leads into the woods. He’s not afraid, and as played by Phoenix, we see great strength and determination in his pursuit He’s more afraid of asking Edward for Ivy’s hand than coming face-to-face with the creatures.

The cast lends authority to Shyamalan’s awkward dialogue, especially Hurt, and the always engaging Cherry Jones as the voice of reason. Adrien Brody brings many layers to his role of the village idiot, a grown man trapped inside the mind of a child.

In many ways, The Village is one of Shyamalan’s better films. The characters, time and place vividly come to life, and even after it has worn out its welcome, what remains is a tidy little morality tale that entertains as well as enlightens.

THE SIMPLE LIFE

It Takes A Village To Raise A Wild Child

THE VILLAGE

Joaquin Phoenix, Dallas Bryce Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Rated PG-13. 107 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $5.00



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