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REVIEW: The Village

There probably is no such thing as a premise that's truly unworkable, but it's hard to imagine how M. Night Shyamalan could have possibly gotten away with anything like his approach to the material of THE VILLAGE. Anybody watching the first two-thirds of the film might wonder how the film could engender such extreme complaints - okay, the dialogue is on the stilted side and the pace is a bit leisurely, but there is plenty of atmosphere and tension. Once the first of the story's big secrets is revealed, however, doubts will arise in most viewers' minds, and when an even bigger twist is revealed, few will be willing to go along with it (if the reaction at the press screening is anything to go by).

We enter the village of Covington Woods at a time of great sadness - a father (Brendan Gleeson) weeps by his son's gravestone, inscribed with the dates 1890-1897. However, we soon see that there is a strong sense of community - the villagers really do look out for each other and conduct the running of the place with a series of civilized meetings. There is no contact with the outside world, however. The village elders warn the youths that "the towns" are filled with violence and greed. More to the point, the woods are inhabited by "those we do not speak of," reputedly fearsome creatures that will only avoid entering the village so long as they feel their own boundaries are being respected. When dead, skinned animals begin appearing on the town green, it is feared that the creatures are encroaching on the town after all and a nocturnal invasion during which the beings are actually seen engenders real fear. Nevertheless, quiet Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks permission to go to the towns to acquire medicine that may help the townsfolk. Lucius is adored by the blind but brave Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), whose father (William Hurt) is the town's leader, while Ivy in turn is great friends with the unbalanced, childlike Noah Percy (Adrien Brody).

For awhile, Shyamalan is in wonderful control of his environment. The look of the village seems inspired by fare like THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, with splashes of red adding drama to scenes bathed in yellow firelight. At first, his surprises also work - there is a scene of violence so unexpected yet carefully constructed that it's breathtaking. The actors - particularly Howard and Hunt - maneuver admirably around the archaic dialogue.

But there just is no getting around the major plot twist - which actually occurs well before the finale, giving the audience even more time to formulate disbelief. At this point, plausibility falls so flat that it's hard to imagine what reaction the filmmakers were hoping to elicit. THE VILLAGE is beautiful, but ambience, great production values and even some astute observations about the peculiarities of human nature only go so far. This is the work of talented people, but still a misfire.

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