I See Village People 

M. Night Shyamalan expands his franchise of trick endings.

Shyamalan also wrote, directed and produced "The Village," a mystery thriller about a reclusive clan of late 19th-century farmers holed up in a peaceful valley, cut off from the rest of society by haunted woods. It opens with the jitteriness characteristic of the genre. Seemingly inviting scenes, like children quietly standing in a quaint schoolyard, are set askew by the faint sound of violin scratching, as the camera moves in to reveal something nasty afoot.

These nice villagers, we quickly learn, are locked in a precarious bargain with a mysterious band of creatures living just past the tree line, referred to in very spooky, hushed tones by all residents as "those we do not speak of." The villagers, self-sufficient in their valley, do not ever go into the forest, and they pray "those we do not speak of" show like respect for personal space.

"Those we do not speak of" are, for lack of a better word, hog people. They have claws like sloths and wear Red Riding Hood cloaks. They apparently shop at Ye Olde Lowe's, judging from the brilliant shade of red paint they use to mark warnings on the villagers' doors. Revealing all this is not really giving much away. The big surprises are still to come. If you spend your hard-earned money to find out what they are, prepare to be deeply angered.

Yet, before that you will notice more unnatural things going on than hog people wandering around the forest. "The Village" offers a bumper crop of stars, including Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver. It's a shame to find these fine actors forced to behave as embarrassingly as they do in "The Village." There are only, at most, about a hundred or so inhabitants, yet they talk to each other with the stilted formality of parliament members. "Many blessings on this most joyous of days," Sigourney Weaver says to William Hurt at his daughter's wedding. Dick Cheney couldn't have coughed up the line with less sincerity.

The setting is not a specific place, but more like a fantasyland. People wait until they're 25 and married to have sex, and children do exactly what their parents tell them, instead of the direct opposite. Given the same set of variables, I would've expected a group of kids to go into the woods anyway, die from eating bad mushrooms or something, causing their enraged parents to mob the innocent hog people with pitchforks and torches. They are settlers, after all.

It's obvious that Shyamalan is not interested in real human behavior in the slightest. All his storyteller machinations are devoted to piquing audience interest in the shocker due to arrive at any moment. He even has the unbelievable audacity to have his characters send the village blind girl into the super-creepy woods to retrieve medicines from neighboring towns. Why they send her has nothing to do with common sense and everything to do with preparing for the end.

When the bombshell arrives, it annihilates every emotion and idea built up before; the movie you've just devoted two hours of your time to crumbles. The sad thing is, taken in a simpler direction, "The Village" might have been saved. 1/2 S

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