Up for a Few Movie Thrills? Hold On to Your Seat

July 30, 2004 — -- Now in theaters: The Village and The Manchurian Candidate.

The Village

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village is like a great Twilight Zone episode. With a thriller, it's all about the ending, and I got whiplash from doing a double-take at this ending. I didn't have a clue. And don't worry, I'm not going to give you one.

It opens at a funeral. A boy is dead. He was 8. The year, it says on his gravestone, is 1897. The village, we learn, is isolated, surrounded by woods where something lives.

In an incredible coincidence, some of the best actors also live in this village: Oscar winners William Hurt and Adrien Brody, three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver, Tony winner Cherry Jones, Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix, and in the lead, young Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron Howard's daughter. No nomination for her yet, but this is her first film. She's excellent.

Shyamalan, as he does so well, builds suspense and twists it into scares — real scares — and with no special effects.

Do watch for two terrific filmmaking moments. A key scene between Phoenix and Howard is shot from behind. We see their backs, and an occasional profile. Then there's one moment where Howard's family is escaping the whatever-it-is-they're-afraid-of. We hear a noise, the camera pans left, then right, as if the camera itself is afraid. Wow. Grade: B.

The Manchurian Candidate

Has Meryl Streep ever played Lady Macbeth? She has now.

And, double-double, she'd better start toiling on an addition to her mantelpiece. This is an Oscar-winning performance. Of course, any resemblance between Ms. Streep and a real senator from New York will be categorically denied … by Sen. Charles Schumer. Liev Schreiber, a fine young actor, plays her son. He served under Denzel Washington in the Gulf War. They were ambushed, their buddies died, and Denzel recommended Schreiber for the Congressional Medal of Honor, which his senator mom has parlayed into a seat in Congress and a vice-presidential nomination.

But something isn't right.Washington is plagued by nightmares. The guys in his platoon who survived the ambush have been dying one by one.

A skin-crawling remake of the 1962 original (which was pulled out of theaters when John F. Kennedy was killed), this new Manchurian Candidate finds a new villain and rewires the old plot with some 21st-century gimmickry.

And, no, I wouldn't recommend seeing the original before you see this one. You'll end up comparing the two instead of enjoying this, and there is an awful lot to like.

The climax is as exciting as movies get. You know how some films say, "No one will be admitted during the last 30 minutes of this movie?" No one will be exhaling during the last 30 minutes of this one. Grade: A-.