Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle The Manchurian Candidate Seed of Chucky (Advance) The Manchurian Candidate (2004) - (Advance) The Village  

Shyamalan does it again, when
the twist ending of his latest
flick reveals that the guy from
The Pianist is actually a kung-fu

The Village
Review written by: Alex Sandell

M. Night Shyamalan has turned himself into a parody of the man that he was when he wrote and directed The Sixth Sense.  At least he's turned his newest movie into a parody of all that was good about his breakout film.  After he began fretting over the smaller box-office of his second film, the ambitious and enjoyable Unbreakable, he began giving more thought to the selling of his craft than he did the craft, itself. 

Determined to prove that he was no one hit wonder, Shyamalan went to work on a film that would put him back at the top of the box-office -- even if he'd have to sacrifice much of the artistry he had revealed to the world, to do so.  What he ended up handing the public was the entertaining, but fatally flawed Signs

The writer/producer/director's strategy worked, and the film was an immediate blockbuster that exceeded nearly all expectations at the box-office.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that M. Night Shyamalan, using the, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" method of filmmaking, has created his most conventional and predictable film to date.  What should come as a surprise is that the film is rarely suspenseful, frequently cheesy and oftentimes dull.

The story centers on a small community, largely cut off from the rest of the world, living in a clearing in the forest, scared of the monsters they believe lurk in the woods outside.  Odd screams come from the shadowy darkness that surrounds the small community.  It doesn't help calm the group's frazzled nerves when skinned animals begin showing up on their front lawns.

Shyamalan pulls out many of the scare-tactics he used in Signs to try and frighten and entertain his audience.  Rattling leaves (it was cornstalks, last time), fleeting shots of a monster (it was an alien, last time), dead dogs (it was dead dogs, last time) and cloaked figures running at their intended victims in slow-motion (it was The Lord of the Rings, last time).  This time around, though, almost none of it is scary. 

The monsters look like low-budget versions of the Skekses from The Dark Crystal (or Henry Hyde from the U.S. Congress, in a cross-dressing phase).  The whole red as the "bad color" and yellow as the "good color" thing is sadly contrived (plus, it's odd that the women with red hair aren't forced to shave it).  The dialogue is used primarily to drop hints about the upcoming twists and turns (all of which are shockingly easy to predict). 

And what the hell's up with that fucking violin? 

Somebody's gotta tell Mr. Shyamalan that it takes more than a nagging violin playing on his movie's soundtrack to convince the public that he's the next Hitchcock.  And no amount of violin can make generic, watered-down "horror" terrifying.  

The final twist in this film is better than the convoluted ending tacked onto Signs (could it possibly be worse?), but what leads up to it is not nearly as interesting.  Shyamalan didn't even bother to rip-off good movies, this time.  At least with Signs he showed taste by stealing from Night of the Living Dead and The 700 ClubThe Village is lifted from an episode of Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine, PBS's reality show, Frontier House (I thought of that program throughout the entire movie) and Little House on the Prairie.  Oh, and pretty much every episode of Scooby-Doo

I'm convinced that M. Night Shyamalan has tons of untapped potential.  If he wasn't so concerned with thinking up "crowd-pleasing" moments and increasingly ludicrous twists, he could finally step out of the shadow cast by the unforgettable The Sixth Sense

Instead of focusing on some bullshit story about monsters haunting the makeshift Amish, he could have focused and expanded on the blooming romance between Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix.  The best character interaction in the film is between these two; so naturally the director splits them up almost immediately. 

What is discussed with the characters seems intriguing, but doesn't go anywhere.  Ivy (Howard) goes on and on about Lucius's (Phoenix) "color."  Ivy is a blind girl who can "see" a color coming off people.  Sort of like DareDevil, but without the stupid outfit or law degree.  Being that the film has the whole "red is bad" and "yellow is good" theme, I figured SOMETHING would come of this.  But it's more filler material.  More useless crap to fatten the film up to feature length.  A few additional lines for the gifted actors in this film to read.  

If Shyamalan cared as much about his A-list cast as he did about trying to freak people out with animal corpses, he may have had a memorable film on his hands.  The acting in The Village shines and it's a shame that Shyamalan decided that there was no use for his talented ensemble during the final third of the movie. 

The last thirty minutes of The Village is essentially Little Red Riding Hood with violins and gratuitous slow-motion shots.  Bryce Dallas Howard continues to prove her worth as an actress, but when you have Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt and other talented character actors ... USE them.  Robert Altman had twice as many actors in Gosford Park and gave them twice as much to do.  Maybe M. Night wasn't ready to juggle this many performers.  It feels like he put all these great actors in the film because he could.

When The Village performs below box-office expectations (after a nearly guaranteed blockbuster opening weekend), due to its "been-there, done-that" feel, lack of thrills, misuse of actors and train wreck of a screenplay; maybe Shyamalan will grow out of his Rod Serling phase and create a movie that surprises the audience by not creating a movie for no reason other than to surprise the audience.  He was going someplace with his first two films, and there are still flashes of inspiration in his last two that show that he may still be capable of arriving there.  It is his job to give us the unexpected.

Note (to those who have already watched the film):  Although I always go as far out of my way as possible to avoid spoilers to movies before seeing them (especially films that rely heavily on keeping you guessing), the final twist in The Village was revealed to me by a friend during the opening credits of the film (after I spent an entire YEAR avoiding reading ANYTHING that had to do with the flick).  While I was able to figure out all of the other "surprises" in the movie, I can never be sure when -- or if -- I would have figured out the last big surprise.  I'd be interested in hearing from any of you who didn't have it spoiled.  If you have a chance, send me an email letting me know if -- and when -- you figured out the twist.  If you want to know which twist I'm talking about, highlight the invisible line below:

The "Modern Day" twist.

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