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M Night Shyamalan's The Village (12A)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deconstructing The Village; Deleted scenes (11:30); Bryce's Diary. M. Night's Home Movie; Production photo gallery.

M NIGHT Shyamalan proves himself to be the master of sustained suspense with his latest pot-boiler, The Village, a shrewd and downright creepy affair that uses the power of the viewer’s imagination as its greatest weapon.

The director has long been compared to a modern-day Hitchcock and The Village furthers the suspicion that he is without equal, in the modern era, in terms of his ability to make you feel uneasy while enjoying yourself all at the same time.

Like Signs before it, The Village thrives on the unknown. It’s not so much what you see on-screen, but that which you don’t. Rather like being told to go to bed, for fear of the bogey-man getting you, the film flirts with your sub-conscious, playing up to what you think might happen, and making a mockery of modern cinema’s desire to show everything in all its graphic glory.

The village of the title is a seemingly picture-perfect community, completely isolated and self-supporting. Yet its idyllic existence is over-shadowed by the constant threat posed by the surrounding woods, which is said to be home to mythical creatures.

For years, an uneasy alliance has existed. If the villagers keep out of the woods, the creatures will not enter their boundary.

But when a headstrong young man resolves to venture into the unknown, in a bid to find medical supplies for the village, his boldness threatens to shatter the safety of the commune and change things forever.

To reveal any more of the plot would be to remove the fun of going to see it, especially since critics have been asked to refrain from giving away any ‘spoilers’. But if the premise intrigues you, then hurry along to the multiplex, before somebody ‘clever’ decides to break the silence.

What is worth noting, however, is that fans of Shyamalan ought not to be disappointed. This is the sort of movie that continues to get better the longer you think about it, even if some of the twists may seem disappointing at the time.

For just as Signs was more a film about faith and one man’s journey of re-discovery, which came wrapped around an alien invasion conceit, then likewise The Village is not simply a movie about mystical beings and the threat they pose to the community.

For all of Shyamalan’s trickery - both visual and imagined - the film has to work on an emotional level, and does so with aplomb. And it is little wonder, given his penchant for story-telling, that the director is able to attract such a strong ensemble cast.

The Village boasts two Oscar-winners, in William Hurt and Adrien Brody, and two nominees, in Joaquin Phoenix and Sigourney Weaver, as well as a revelatory introductory performance from Ron Howard’s daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, who steals the show.

Phoenix is the brave villager in question, whose decision to confront his fears and break the boundaries triggers the events which propel the movie, while Howard, as his blind love-interest, is utterly compelling as the heroine of the piece.

Brody, as the village idiot, appears to be having fun, while Hurt, Weaver and Brendan Gleeson make the most of their well-rounded characters, bringing some added gravitas to proceedings, while there is also the obligatory cameo from Shyamalan, himself, to keep an eye out for.

The look of the film is also first-rate, while the director’s use of sound is truly eerie and occasionally terrifying, playing to just about all of the viewers’ senses, and toying with them repeatedly.

One set-piece, in particular, is likely to leave you gasping for breath, while the sense of fear that permeates throughout translates cleverly to its audience.

Some viewers may feel cheated by some of the revelations, while the popcorn crowd may get a little fidgety (as things take time to unfold), but for those with an appreciation of classic story-telling, quality acting and nerve-shredding suspense, this offers a virtual tour-de-force in all three.

Thoughtful, unnerving and emotional to boot, The Village confirms Shyamalan’s status as one of modern cinema’s richest talents. If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

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