A determinedly 19th century Utopian settlement lives in agrarian sameness and bliss, located in a beautiful clearing in the midst of a forest; the inhabitants have willfully turned their backs on "the towns", each carrying with them some tragedy that befell them in civilization. It is a very tight-knit community, like an insular episode of Little House on the Prairie. It's not all butter churns and homespun here, though; There is an uneasy truce with some mysterious creatures who live in the woods, "those we do not speak of". In the wake of the illness and death of one of his friends, a young man (Joaquin Phoenix) wishes to travel through the woods to the towns to get medicine so no one else might suffer. But the appearance of horribly skinned animals inside the clearing, and a late night incursion by red-robed, bestial things with claws for hands seems to signal an end to the truce...
A lot of people dislike M. Night Shyamalan and his movies. I am not one of them.
In the wake of The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan got the reputation of a "gimmick" director, his "gimmick" being the eleventh-hour Twilight Zone plot twist. Shyamalan appears to be trying to move outside that classificiation in his last two movies; there are still the twists, of course - the man obviously loves his genre films and his mind games - but he has also been striving to bring a more honest emotionalism to his work. A rather ungainly story in Signs short-circuited that attempt, but his hand is more sure, the story simpler, in The Village.
This is Shyamalan's best cast to date, with box office heavy hitters like Phoenix, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Adrien Brody, supported by a stunning group of stage actors. This includes a winning performance by Bryce Dallas Howard, not truly a "newcomer" as described on the box, but certainly more than holding her own against the seasoned pros around her.
The big twists here are pretty transparent, but not as ridiculous as those in Signs. Yet this very transparency aids the movie immeasurably, as the movie really isn't about the twists. While I sat and waited for my predicted story points to come to pass - and they did - Shyamalan slyly sneaked one or two over on me that I wasn't expecting, leaving me literally, at one point, slack-jawed in surprise. In Signs, the emotionalism never truly meshed with the events of the story in a satisfactory manner; in The Village, the emotional core moves front and center, with strange mythologies only forming the backdrop. Some movies are known only by their twists - among them Sixth Sense and Signs. The Village doesn't deserve that fate - it deserves to be considered as a whole.
The transfer is quite marvelous, with nicely saturated color, and color is an important story element here - "those we do not speak of" are repelled by the color yellow but drawn to red, and the filmmakers manage to have a lot of fun with this on a primal, even -ahem- primary level. Your one audio choice: 5.1 Dolby, more than sufficient for the creative sound design.
Oooh, Vista Series, how you tax me. You give me an alright making-of documentary, Deconstructing The Village, which doesn't end so much as it stops; Eleven minutes of deleted scenes, with Shyamalan, as usual, explaining in a very clear fashion why they were cut. You give me an interesting little film/tone poem made of entries from Bryce's Diary; and another of the young Shyamalan's home movies, this time proving he's an Indiana Jones fan. You give me 38 behind-the-scenes photos, and trailers for three movies I do not want, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Mr. 3000 and Ladder 49. You even make me watch these trailers before the movie (well, you try to, anyway).
Yet you do not give me a trailer for The Village or a commentary track by the well-spoken Shyamalan.
Why, Vista Series? Why?
Dr. Freex, 1/19/2005