Dark woods, scary legends, isolated townspeople: M. Night Shyamalan's portentous period thriller wrings some efficient thrills from these clichéd elements, but collapses under the weight of a labored and unsatisfying ending. Pennsylvania, 1897: The close-knit farming settlement of Covington Woods valley embrace a simple way of life. Having rejected the corruption of "The Towns," they take their meals together, abide by the decisions of the village elders, celebrate communally and support each other in times of sorrow and loss. But a shadow hangs over their apparently idyllic existence: The deep, dark woods are alive with mysterious, flesh-eating creatures so terrible they're called only "those we don't speak of" in hushed, frightened tones. They howl and prowl at night, so a barrier of torches illuminates the town's perimeter and villagers take turns watching the woods from a guard tower. The predators are attracted to red, so "the bad color" is shunned and the people tremble beneath their yellow cloaks. For years now, the creatures have stayed in the woods and left the villagers to their business. Flighty Kitty Walker (Judy Greer) falls in and out of love with every handsome boy in town, including quiet Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix). Lucius favors Kitty's blind, tomboyish sister, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), but is too shy to say so. Lucius's mother, Alice (Sigourney Weaver), and Ivy and Kitty's father, Edward (William Hurt), guide the committee of elders; August Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson) mourns his young son's death; village idiot Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) cuts capers. Then something upsets the delicately balanced truce: Skinned but uneaten animal corpses appear mysteriously around town, a creature scuttles right beneath the guard tower and red splashes deface the townspeople's doors. Like Shyamalan's other films, this one-trick thriller is weighted down by lots of emotional sturm und drang. But if THE SIXTH SENSE was 90 minutes of drudgery with a nifty parlor trick at the end, this film dispenses with the parlor trick — there's a twist, but it's a dumb "oh, please" twist and a cheat as well: A crucial scrap of information in the film's first scene is a lie. Shyamalan is great at justifying: There are explanations for all the film's oddities, from the sensible Alice Hunt's pig-headed insistence that insane coyotes mutilated the dead animals to the tacky appearance of "those we don't speak of". But having an answer for everything isn't the same as constructing a fundamentally satisfying narrative, and the film's gotcha! payoff doesn't justify the gloomy journey.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Dark woods, scary legends, isolated townspeople: M. Night Shyamalan's portentous period thriller wrings some efficient thrills from these clichéd elements, but collapses under the weight of a labored and unsatisfying ending. Pennsylvania, 1897: The close-k… (more)