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DIRECTOR  -  m. night shyamalan

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  thriller

LENGTH  -  108 minutes

RELEASED  -  30 july 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  touchstone pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the village

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $60,000,000
the village - a shot from the film


buy the soundtrack from the village at

buy the dvd from the village at

the population of a small, isolated countryside village believe that their alliance with the mythical creatures that inhabit the forest around them, is coming to an end.

m. night shyamalan put the entire cast through a 19th century "boot camp" in order for them to get a good feel for the time period.


picture from the village

picture from the village

picture from the village

picture from the village


four out of four possible stars

Director M. Night Shyamalan has seemingly made a career out of giving an audience a "surprise ending" in his films, and with each of his directed films landing squarely in the genre of thriller and each of them has been a masterpiece in its own interesting way. In a year of "difficult" feature films from the Mouse House (I say difficult because none of them were bad movies; they were just each the recipient of bad marketing or a weak story), The Village is the last chance the Touchstone folks have in the summer of 2004 to bring some decent box-office take to the table. Their share was bolstered last year by the ridiculously successful Pirates of the Caribbean, but this year, they've seen more than the usual allotment of flops. Although they have a Pixar film looming in the fall, 2004 has just not been a banner year for Mickey and Friends.

Relying on the name of director M. Night Shyamalan alone, the picture boasts strong acting talent, yet features no actor whose name alone would be a giant box office draw. Shyamalan's name has become synonymous with a film whose main attributes are a creepy atmosphere and a surprise ending. And while the conclusion of The Village may be obvious to some viewers, Shyamalan has actually created a film where the ending isn't the be all and end all of the picture (pun intended!). In what becomes the lead role, newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard, continuing in her famous father's footsteps, blasts onto the screen with more intelligence and fervor than one would expect from an actress of her limited feature film experience.

Shyamalan apparently cast her in the role without having seen an audition from the young woman, using a Broadway performance to make his decision. While this honor is usually reserved for "proven" actors (actors whose name alone can bring box-office magic), Shyamalan seems to have been right in his choosing, as Howard really throws the audience a stunner of a performance on screen. Howard plays the sightless daughter of one of the village elders (William Hurt's role), "Ivy Walker," and one of the most interesting things about her character is that the movie really doesn't showcase her as the lead role until the second act.

The film is much more an ensemble piece for much of its running time until everything that "hangs in the balance" hangs on the character of Ivy Walker. But that is not to say that the other actors in the film become less effectual or less important as the story advances. The story actually gives the audience many characters to choose from and Shyamalan intelligently keeps them all brimming at the surface, letting no subplot or supporting performance go unchecked by the end of the film. The story is inordinately well constructed and while the deliberate nature of the story might have overpowered a less capable cast, Hurt, Howard, and their co-stars are truly the most important aspects of the film.

The mysterious and threatening creatures who live in the forest beyond the village's borders are certainly a constant presence and thought in the characters' minds, but the relationship between each of the characters is the aspect of the film that should most easily grab the audience's attention. Your heart will be in your throat not because of what looms just beyond the camera's view, but because of the imminent harm to which any given character might come. With a few well placed comedic sequences (if you recall the foil hat scene in Signs, that's comparable to the humor in this movie) and a keen ear for dialogue, the director (who also wrote the screenplay) brings to life a very imaginative and idealistic people.

Beyond the inconceivably strong performances from Hurt's "Edward Walker" and Howard's "Ivy," Joaquin Phoenix is his usual surprising self as "Lucius Hunt," a quiet member of the village who believes the creatures in the woods will do him no harm if he ventures into their borders. Shyamalan constructs Lucius's dialogue in such a way that he usually says something contrary or different to what you might expect a character like him to say. This is usually the case with most of the dialogue, but especially so with Lucius Hunt's words. But though the dialogue is always an interesting listen, there are just as many interesting silent moments. The performers in this film are fortunate in that they are able to sink their claws not only into the audial portion of their characters, but also into the physical elements as well.

The characters can always be counted on to say something interesting, but they are also interesting to simply look at and observe. Shyamalan has created a well-rounded cast of characters and in his casting choices, has put together a group of actors that work extraordinarily well together and become exceedingly amenable to the audience. Even Adrien Brody, who plays "Noah Percy," a mentally retarded villager, will find empathy with the audience, despite his lack of intelligible dialogue. Again, this is because his character has much more to do that simply utter some lines. Like each member of the cast, his role is theatrical and intriguing.

Supporting roles from Sigourney Weaver (playing Phoenix's mother), Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, and Celia Weston are all effective in their roles as town elders, and in the younger generation, Michael Pitt plays his smaller role as the village's night watchman with enthusiasm and Judy Greer brings both comedy and compassion to the film as "Kitty Walker," Howard's older sister. Complimenting the performances in an M. Night Shyamalan film seems to be a consistently needed exercise, as his film always seem to sport the most intense acting.

Shyamalan doesn't stop his machinations at the story and performances, however. There are two other vivid elements to the film which, in comparing them to Shyamalan's previous efforts, look as though they are two of the director's favorite elements with which to meddle. The first is the opening credits sequence. With a physical appearance that really doesn't match the color and tone of the rest of the film, the sequence is as equally surprising as that of Signs. Watch for Shyamalan's sly move in his own credit (his is the last of the opening sequence) where his name advances toward the audience (i.e. the text of his name becomes bigger) instead of pushes away, as do all the other credits.

The second element the director looks to have put a great emphasis on is the musical score. Using again his favorite composer, James Newton Howard, the score is as intricately bound to the film as the story and in some scenes is just as important. The most attention grabbing aspect of the score though is not in its use to push the audience in a specific emotional direction. In fact, some of the cues seem at odds with what is actually happening on screen. The score is as close to a character as a non-human can seem, yet in some masterful stroke, James Newton Howard has blended the bold cues into the film so well that audience members probably won't even realize the importance of the music (as the score should indeed be in any well-made film).

The Village is more than well-constructed. It's well-executed and gripping, with a perfect pacing and tone for the eerie nature Shyamalan attempted to create for his picture. His movies are never entirely dependent the bumps in the night (as so many thrillers are) and he is able to disguise any use of cliché or used-and-abused suspense filmmaking techniques with elegant cinematography (by Roger Deakins in his first work on a Shyamalan film, his incredible cinematography and composition deserves a review all its own), sympathetic characters, and a few pieces of well-played comedy. The director is simply one of the best filmmakers of his generation and The Village is a prime example.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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