It takes a ‘Village’ to ruin an evening out

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 6, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

As I write this, I feel that the people near where I live, myself included, may be in grave danger. It has been nary a fortnight now since the elders first told us of something that has plagued us since we arrived here oh so many years ago. It is something that neither speaks nor walks nor acts with any sense whatsoever of reality, all toward madness. They refuse to even mention the names of these beings, only informing us that they must be referred to as &uot;those we do not speak of.&uot;

We are now horrified beings ourselves, trapped in the world of desperation that so maliciously has been bestowed upon us, all too ready to spoil this perfect world we worked so hard to create for ourselves and our children! Oh, what are we to do? What will become of us? How will….Whoa, whoa , whoa! Where was I for those few moments? I can just see readers now saying, &uot;Hey, Jason, buddy, come back to us! We’re over here on Earth!&uot;

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Whew. OK, I guess I took a few steps a bit too close to &uot;The Village&uot; on that little rant, but believe me, I’m stepping back out – fast.

M. Night Shyamalan, who exploded onto the film scene in 1999 with &uot;Sixth Sense&uot; did almost as well with 2000’s &uot;Unbreakable,&uot; and fell just short of that in 2002’s &uot;Signs,&uot; is back with &uot;Village&uot; – and it makes us fear that he may be just a one-trick pony.

The story revolves around a bunch of people (though we learn their names and little else) living in a rural but unnamed Pennsylvania village in the late 1800s. Edward Walker (William Hurt) is the leader of the village, a former city history teacher who, after a family tragedy, moved his followers to a place of peace and tranquility (although it just SCREAMS &uot;Cult! Cult!&uot;). His zealous daughter Kitty (Judy Greer) is in love with local boy Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), a quiet type with a decent soul. Unfortunately, Lucius’ heart belongs to Kitty’s blind sister Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the best pal of idiot

-doesn’t every village have one? – Noah (Adrian Brody), who may have his own dark secret.

It’s a community that thrives within itself, although there is one rule – never venture past the borders into the woods, for that’s where those &uot;things of which we do not speak&uot; lurk, and they don’t take kindly to humans.

The problems begin in the screenplay, which seems to have been written by Arthur Miller. &uot;I love you more than the sun and the moon together, and if we truly love each other, we should bellow it out!&uot; one character shouts to her love interest early on. When you realize that that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as &uot;Shakespeare-type&uot; dialogue goes, things get old and boring quickly.

The characters are another story – with one exception, there’s no development. It’s as if the film started halfway through the story. What makes Lucius so lovable, considering that he rarely speaks? Phoenix sleepwalks through his role – he’s trying to underact, but goes so far that he ends up almost devoid of any emotion at all. Hurt does an acceptable job, but he doesn’t have much to work with. Fortunately, like Haley Joel Osment did in &uot;Sense,&uot; Howard (Ron’s daughter) will probably use &uot;Village&uot; to shoot to stardom – in her debut role as Ivy, she’s the only deep character in the film, and gets about 70 percent of the screen time, using it wisely.

Unfortunately, that ominous aura of fear that Shyamalan created so effectively in his first films just doesn’t happen. There’s a couple of &uot;pop out of the seat&uot; moments, but rarely do they become more of an unintentional chuckle a few seconds later. It’s one thing to not be realistic – no one expected that. It’s another to be absolutely ludicrous.

&uot;Sixth Sense&uot; and &uot;Unbreakable&uot; each had suspenseful storytelling and foreshadowing that led to an unexpected (but satisfying) twist at the end. &uot;Signs&uot; didn’t have the twist, but it worked us up into a frenzy of fear that made everything worthwhile. Here, it’s like Shyamalan is trying to have it both ways – we spend the whole film working up to a climax (although the plot goes slower than growing grass), only to witness an ending that’s so far out of left field that we’re thinking, &uot;Where did THAT come from?&uot;

We might have been thinking the same thing after &uot;Sense&uot; or &uot;Unbreakable,&uot; but unlike &uot;Village,&uot; those twists made sense when we really thought about it. Yes, the twist at the end is unexpected, but it tends to distract from the point of the entire film – we feel as though Shyamalan didn’t make the film really to entertain us, but just to fool us. Either way, we’re not satisfied.

Grade: C-