Before this week's critics screening of The Village, Touchstone Pictures asked that critics refrain from spoiling critical plot points in the film for the reader. Will that make my job tougher? Sure, but I'll oblige. Nervous readers, do not fret: this review is spoiler-free.

By the time you leave the theater, however, you may wish that you had the plot spoiled. The Village is, for the most part, a terrible film. Like M. Night Shyamalan's previous films, The Village is wonderful to look at. Shot in the Southeastern Pennsylvania area (like his other films), The Village features a great set as well as tremendous use of color -- if only M. Night would have paid that much attention to his characters.

The Village seems to bring together all of the flaws that have popped up in previous Shyamalan films, showing that the popular, young filmmaker has regressed over the past few years. First, Shyamalan cannot handle his large cast. He does not properly introduce and identify many of the main characters. Early on, I thought that two characters were having an affair when, in fact, they were mother and son.

As the film plods along, there is a distracting focus on the villain of the film, vaguely named "Those We Don't Speak Of." The first hour of the film is slow, but it has some interesting moments of intrigue and suspense when the creatures make their presence known.

Then, of course, the big twist comes. Then another twist comes. Then a few more come. At this point, it's frighteningly apparent that Shyamalan wants to appeal to the base audience who loved The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs for their twist endings. Unfortunately, this is the only authentic and memorable scare you'll receive. Shyamalan's films did have twisty conclusions, but they were only interesting because he was able to draw the audience in with engaging characters. The conclusion of The Sixth Sense, for instance, is ho-hum if you're not caught up in Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment's relationship.

In The Village, Shyamalan creates a lot of empty plot twists. Without a relationship between character and audience, the twist means nothing. Why should we care? In fact, the only time that the characters are developed is during the twist, when we get a brief glimpse of their motivations.

Twist endings only work when there's something else to distract and entertain the audience. In The Village, Shyamalan creates a sharp distance from his audience by keeping them in the dark. By the time he opens the door, no one wants to step in.


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