M. Night Shyamalan, by the virtue of the mischievous trickery of his stunning debut The Sixth Sense (1999), is always expected to produce the unexpected. His subsequent movies, Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002), both paid toward his promise, delivering mercilessly twisting thrills (to varying degrees of success) but without straying too far from the comfort of the supernatural thriller genre. Perhaps, then, The Village (2004) is Shyamalan's most surprising movie effort yet, for not only does it indulge in the writer-director's fathomless gift for convincing narrative sleight-of-hand, but it is also his least categorizable film to date, and, for many, it seems, his most vexing. The fable-like village of Covington Woods is in many ways a model 19th century American community: family-oriented and pure, self-sufficient both by nature and necessity its idyllic meadows are cut-off from the outlying towns by a dense wood. The good folk of Covington dare not breach the enveloping thicket, not even in times of medical emergency. In those woods dwell "Those We Do Not Speak Of," a lethal race of demonkind that has scarred every family in the village over time, and the fear of whom echoes through the daily lives of the townsfolk, despite assumed safety of their clearing settlement. As with most Shyamalan movies, the less narrative details written about The Village the better, but it is safe to say that Shyamalan's storytelling here is as rich as ever, and equaled by Roger Deakins' exquisite cinematography and a gorgeous score by James Newton Howard (with heartbreaking solos by young violinist Hilary Hahn). Bryce Dallas Howard is exceptional as Ivy, the strong-willed, blind daughter of town elder Edward (William Hurt), who falls in love with the equally forceful Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix). The strength of the cast is such that Adrien Brody followed up his Oscar-winning performance in The Pianist with a crucial supporting role, while other heavyweight thespians Sigourney Weaver and Brendon Gleeson play only minor roles. Still, despite the absolutely first-rate technical abilities of all involved, many fans of Shyamalan's previous work took umbrage rather than pleasure at some of The Village's deceptively difficult narrative turns. But the key to Shyamalan's gift is that his plot twists are not gratuitous; they serve to reveal rather than merely titillate. Patient viewers who can resist knee-jerk dismissal of The Village's challenging moments may find themselves deeply moved by what is ultimately another careful and profound examination of psychological pain by this young auteur, who might just have earned the title "visionary." Buena Vista presents M. Night Shyamalan's The Village in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital EX 5.1 audio. The disc includes five unrevealing deleted scenes, each somewhat redundantly introduced by Shyamalan, who always seems far too happy-go-lucky to create such incongruously pain-wracked movies. Also on disc are the behind-the-scenes featurette "Deconstructing the Village" (25 min.), the short-but-annoying "Bryce's Diary," and another of Shyamalan's short boyhood movies, this one an homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Keep-case.