The Village
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr M Night Shyamalan
with Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt, Jesse Eisenberg, Jayne Atkinson
release US 30.Jul.04, UK 20.Aug.04
04/US 1h45

Dressed in the 'safe colour': Phoenix (above) and Howard.

brody hurt weaver


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The Village Here's another involving dramatic thriller from Shyamalan, which of course has some surprises up its sleeve. But there's a lot more than a few good plot twists in this clever, important film.

It's 1897 in a tiny village surrounded by dark, menacing woods. A whole series of rules have evolved to help the villagers live in a kind strained coexistence with horrific creatures that prowl amongst the trees. The villagers are self-sufficient--they never need to visit the towns beyond the woods--and their life is rather idyllic. In this setting, the strong-but-silent Lucius (Phoenix) falls in love with the feisty-blind Ivy (Howard), daughter of the town's leader (Hurt). But Ivy's simpleton friend (Brody) is unknowingly stirring up something scary in the woods.

Shyamalan is an expert at creating multi-layered, insinuating, inventive storylines and characters (see also The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs), even if his films are very slowly paced. And the issues he examines here are especially strong--and extremely timely, due to the juxtaposition between the villagers and "Those We Don't Speak Of", which is frighteningly familiar in today's us-versus-them world.

Besides being a gripping story all its own, this is a moving parable about the state of the planet. And Shyamalan directs it steadily, building both the plot and the characters and digging way beneath the surface. The cinematography, sound and music are perfectly moody and textured--like Snow White meets the Blair Witch! And he edits the film with a fiendish glee (his cameo appearance near the end is mischievously witty) while keeping the characters real--we feel their desperate longing even before we know what they yearn for. Their warm respect, humour and energy are all sharply felt.

And the superb cast relishes these strong characters. Howard is especially compelling in a tricky role, while Hurt, Weaver (as Lucius' mother), Gleeson, Jones, Weston, et al, are fascinating as the secretive, jingo-spouting elders. To be honest, there isn't a big twist at the end. It's more a gentle revelation as we begin to understand the truth here. This is a powerful tale of isolationism, a desire for innocence and hope, and a fear of the unknown. Or maybe not so unknown after all.

cert 12 themes, violence, suspense 22.Jul.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Village Mike Allcock, Sunderland: 3.5/5 "This is actually a decent film; despite the lambasting it's had by critics. It is superficial, it is obvious and it is confused, but it scores in several places, especially in the first half of the movie. The cast is pretty strong; Phoenix is under-used but touching, Weaver as his mother only has one decent scene. But both Hurt and Howard are superb; don't mistake the rather contrived language of the settlement as showing their characters to be harsh or unfeeling. Listen to what they're saying along with how they say it and they're both likeable, gentle characters. It's a beautifully shot film, Bryce Dallas Howard is superb despite over-acting, and it will make your eyes widen at places, not from plot twists, but at the sudden incursions of horror style brutality especially in the setting up. A period piece, mixed with a little bit of fairytale, featuring competent acting, it only fails to deliver where you expect it to. Which is no bad thing." (14.Aug.04)

Jimmy, Ohio: 4.5/5 "I went with a couple of friends who were expecting a very scary film that violently shocked you and kept you awake at night (kind of like Sixth Sense). One would never believe how angry they were when it didn't happen and they called it one of the worst movies ever. Alas, they are very unintelligent, shallow people! This film was great, because it had a deeper story behind it. It had its scary moments, as well as shocking scenes. Deep down, however, you realize what's going on here and I think it is a reflection of our world today. I loved it how, despite the near failure of their 'experiment', the elders decided to keep the hope and continue on. I think it delivers a deeper message telling us, that despite the dark times, we can in fact continue on with our lives carrying the hope of our future generations. M Night Shylaman is a brilliant writer and director and needs to keep these films coming!" (17.Aug.04)

J O A Q U I N   P H O E N I X   Q & A
The Village On working a second time round with M Night Shyamalan...
phoenix Joaquin Phoenix:
It was great, especially after making Signs 18 months or so ago so. It was not like working with someone 10 years after the fact. We had developed a shorthand in Signs and that was able to come over into this. To be honest, there was also something intimidating about it. Part of what's good about working with someone that you've never worked with before is they don't know you and they are getting to know the character - they don't know the difference between what's you and what's the character. After Signs, Night and I got to know each other a lot better so he was able to tell when I was bulls**tting much easier than before - so that was a little intimidating.

On the boot camp experience...
Are we sure we want to call it a boot camp? I know it calls it that in the production notes. But it was really just an opportunity for us to really focus on the film, to not have any other distractions and to get to know each other - really in character - and to develop our relationships in character; which I think is really important. It depends on the actors. There are some actors who really embrace each part and try to lose themselves in the part. Then there are others who are on their phones all the time. So to get all of us actors together in an isolated environment was really beneficial. At least I found it so.

On working with Sigourney Weaver...
Sigourney and I had a relationship like we had in the film. I think she probably asked me a lot of questions and I didn't say much. I remember seeing Sigourney out ploughing the field. Her time was up and she was like 'No, Ho! Ho!' She really enjoyed it. We did all that stuff -- ploughing the field and scything -- that's some work! No joke! Every muscle in your body hurts, and that I didn't enjoy at all. When I started a fire, I was there for 24 hours rubbing sticks together. Everyone else had gone to dinner. So, finally, I just got out my lighter and yelled ,'Fire!' For me that whole process was just getting to know everybody more than anything.

On being wary when people say they have written something for you...
It doesn't give me hesitation, but I definitely feel more pressure. With Night I always feel a great deal of pressure, because he knows his films so well. He knows his characters so well. He has a full history of each character. You kind of get the sense that he could almost act the part better than you could. That can be intimidating. With all good directors you always have a feeling that you don't want to let them down. I know with Night that each story is so personal, and that he puts such a great deal of work into his screenplays. You feel this overwhelming need to succeed.

On good films that don't do well at the box office...
I'll be totally honest. The only reason why I care if a movie succeeds or not is that it allows me to continue to work. A $100 million movie gives you great opportunities. But for me personally it's just the process of making the film that I enjoy. In some ways I couldn't care less if someone sees it or doesn't.

On singing and guitar playing in the upcoming Johnny Cash biopic I Walk The Line...
Shameful. [smiles] It is the strangest experience. I have done three and a half months prepping for that film, and I have never felt so inadequate in my life. It's been quite a journey. I have a much greater deal of respect for singers. It is incredibly vulnerable to go out there in front of a large number of people and sing. I also have a respect for people who lip synch to their singing because it's very difficult to do. We are doing live singing and playing and some to playback. I don't know how it's going. I'm a terrible judge of myself. We are doing like 10 concerts, and it's terrifying. [laughs] During prep it is so foreign. How can you imagine what it is to be up on stage performing these songs? Once we are there, in wardrobe, you just have to command the stage in a way. I don't know. I lose myself in a way. At some point, I just come to and the day's over and they say 'you've wrapped' and I go ok. I really have no concept of what happens once the camera starts going.

On the firefighting drama Ladder 49...
It was amazing. Probably the most intensive research I have ever done for a role. Certainly the most hands-on research I have ever done. Which was probably very important, because I felt a great obligation to be true to these guys' experience. It was exciting and terrifying. I started at the training academy and did three weeks there. I joined a class - Class 10 - and I wanted to first get the experience of what it is to be a rookie and to go through the training and kind of get the anticipation of being sent to a fire house. It's random where they send you and whether you are going to be on the engine or whatever. You should have seen their faces! They were so excited! That was amazing, just to work with the instructors and overcoming some fears. One of the things that you do is something called a "maze" when they have a large semi-truck that they have converted into this maze. There is only crawling space. You are on your stomach, and they blindfold you and put full gear on. You go on and from the moment they seal the door if you lift your head an inch it hits the roof and you can't go down. So you start crawling with your hand extended, and suddenly there's a drop, and you have to figure how to turn round in that space. I didn't like that at first. Then of course there was rappelling heights. Everybody was scared. You got to the top of the tower and looked down! It was an amazing experience for me. And then finally getting into the field and working with one company and sticking with them for a month.

So you went on call to a real fire?
I did everything that they did, but I felt completely safe. I was absolutely petrified, but I did feel that ultimately I was going to be ok. One of my great concerns was that one of them would get harmed in trying to help me. Because they would have helped me. They all told me that. They said, 'We will go down to get you out.' It was an amazing experience.

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall