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Spotlight on: M. Night Shyamalan's The Village

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The Village Poster M. Night Shyamalan's The Village

There is no doubt that people are going to be disappointed in the new film from writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan, The Village, especially after the marketing campaign that promises intense thrills and scares. It is not that the film does not offer these, but they are not the main force behind it. After a huge letdown involving the expected twist ending, the film becomes a haven for thought-provoking ideas about society and our reactions to it.

The year is 1897 (according to the tombstone of a child who dies before the movie begins). A small village of people live in fear of "those we don't speak of" -- creatures who live in the nearby Covington Woods, a forest that borders -- and separates the village from -- "the towns," the location of seemingly even more awful things that the people in the village avoid. Only the mentally-challenged Noah (Adrien Brody of The Pianist) seems to be unafraid of the noises the creatures make. Everyone else is terrified and children play games to see who can stand longest with his back to the woods before becoming scared. This, even though a presumed truce between the creatures and the villagers keep their domains separated by a mysterious truce based on mutual respect.

Meanwhile, love is developing in the village: the quiet Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix, doing his usual secretive moody shtick) has fallen for Ivy (newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of actor/director Ron Howard), the blind daughter of village elder Edward Walker (William Hurt). The chemistry between Phoenix and Howard is the centerpiece of the film, and its believability is the rock that still manages to support much of writer Shyamalan's flawed script.

Director Shyamalan builds his world beautifully with a wonderful use of color (marvelously captured by cinematographer Roger Deakins) as his characters portray their horror of the known and unknown. "The bad color" (red) is to be avoided entirely, as it attracts "those we don't speak of" while yellow is the good color, shown by the wearing of yellow cloaks when on the boundaries of Covington Woods. These colors take on lives of their own as events happen to cause "those we don't speak of" to break their truce and cross over into the village.

When Lucius is wounded, Edward allows Ivy to make the trek through the woods to the towns to get medicine for him. This scene is the beginning of the revelation and I can go no further but to say that this Little Yellow Riding Hood's love for her beau makes her fearless despite her disadvantage and that a forest hasn't been this frightening since The Blair Witch Project.

Though the cast contains such revered actors as Hurt, Phoenix, Brendan Gleeson, and Sigourney Weaver, the true star of The Village is Howard. Her Ivy is the heart of the film and she is more than up to the challenge. Her blindness is never questioned and Ivy goes through every conceivable emotion with nothing but sincerity. She's nice to look at, too. despite the fact that this is her film debut (she worked on the stage for a time, developing her craft under the name Bryce Dallas).

I, too, was highly disappointed by the revelation of the "secret" (Shyamalan's stock in trade; it seems he is unable to write a story than can stand on its own merits), but The Village has much more going for it if you can stay with it -- after being led through a sea of deception -- pay attention to the myriad emotional layers below the surface. This change is jarring, and could undoubtedly have been done better, but the movie is rewarding in its own way. The ending is a bit jarring, but where else could it really go? This is definitely going to be a film that will seem better on the second viewing as all (well, most) of Shyamalan's do; his worlds seem to be hermetically sealed against inconsistencies.

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