The Village (2004) – movie review

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Movie Review by Jonathan Harvey

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver

Director: M Night Shyamalan

A 19th century close-knit community in rural Pennsylvania is the setting for THE VILLAGE, the latest supernatural thriller from M Night Shyamalan, the writer/director/producer behind THE SIXTH SENSE. The big question, as with everything he’s done since his blistering debut, is whether the story all hangs on a final twist. The answer, rather unsurprisingly, is ‘yes’.

Shyamalan has certainly managed to concoct another vivid, and different, world. This time the inhabitants of the scenic village in question, led by a group of ‘elders’ including Edward Walker (William Hurt) and Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver), follow a simple and seemingly idyllic life. But they never stray into the woods beyond their borders, for fear of a race of monstrous creatures that live there, and with whom they’ve maintained a fragile truce for years. So when Alice’s headstrong son Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) resolves to venture beyond the agreed boundaries, a chain of events begins that puts the whole village’s future in jeopardy.

With the ‘spooky set-up’ box firmly ticked, Shyamalan again proves himself to be adept at building cinematic tension and playing on an audience’s fears and expectations. His problem, which THE VILLAGE demonstrates all too clearly, is relying far too heavily on playing the ‘twist’ card at the end. It seems he is really struggling to live in the shadow of the success of THE SIXTH SENSE, and four films down the line he’s now in real danger of being labelled a one-trick pony. It’s a shame for the all-star cast, who bring the story to life well in the first half, that there isn’t a more satisfying pay-off. Phoenix puts in an understated turn as the curious Lucius, and he’s more than matched by newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of director and one-time HAPPY DAYS star Ron) as the blind heroine and love interest, Ivy.

But while the film looks beautiful, its slow and at times tedious pace means that by the time the big mystery is revealed it would need to be something very special to be worth the wait. If you do get swept up by the story you may think Shyamalan has struck gold again; if not, as is more likely, you’ll probably leave the cinema feeling cheated rather than rewarded.

3 out of 6 stars