Friday, July 30, 2004

The Village

Is it midnight yet?  Yes?  OK, good.

Buena Vista has done all they can to keep reviews of M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE from going to press before opening day.  For good reason, I should note.  Surely the studio is concerned about piracy, but spoilers are deadlier to this film's box office health than a shaky camcorder MPEG video. 

Shyamalan made his name on THE SIXTH SENSE'S late twist and has gone to great pains to ensure that little information is known about his films before they open.  These days trailers and other aspects of the marketing campaigns reveal too much information.  Viewers feel like they know everything that will happen before they see the films and, in actuality, probably do.  Not for Shyamalan's movies.  He gives us just enough to pique our interest and no more.  I didn't know what UNBREAKABLE was about until seeing it at the press screening.  That's a rare occurrence, especially with a big budget Hollywood film.  Shyamalan has proven that he can deliver an audience based on his reputation and the general story idea.  Thus, he gets to tease viewers with glimpses rather than cycle through every plot point in a two and a half minute advertisement.

I wasn't permitted to see the film until tonight, the night before opening day, at 9:00 p.m, and even then I, along with all other attendees, needed to present a photo ID to gain admittance to the screening.  Fortunately a fingerprint, a blood sample, and a notarized letter of approval from my fourth grade teacher weren't necessary.  So, now that it's July 30th, the embargo is no longer in effect.

Some quick impressions...  Shyamalan's filmmaking continues to improve.  THE VILLAGE is his best film because its power doesn't rely entirely on the end, although this one is sure to send heads spinning.  He's a confident director who knows how to play the audience like a piano without pounding the keys.  He uses the smallest gestures to great effect.  The on-screen violence in THE VILLAGE is minimal and not at all graphic, but it pierces because of its direct, unblinking presentation.  Shyamalan is patient, letting our minds fill in the empty spaces on the screen and the soundtrack to create a sense of dread.  His lyrical direction and use of space display his growing formal control.

The cast is stellar from small, inconsequential players to the main cast.  As the blind daughter of William Hurt's character, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard's daughter and star of Lars von Trier's upcoming MANDERLAY, announces herself as an actress to watch.  Featured veterans include Joaquin Phoenix, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Adrien Brody, and Cherry Jones. are featured.  That's not to mention familiar faces whose names might not ring a bell, like Judy Greer, Michael Pitt, Frank Collison, and Liz Stauber.

Thematically, religion/spirituality is at the core of Shyamalan's work, and there's a lot in this area worth exploring in THE VILLAGE.  This is also his most political film, which should lead to some fascinating discussion.  Now, however, is not the time for that.  I envy those who will see this great film for the first time and have no desire to spoil it.  Deeper examination of it can wait, at least until this weekend.

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