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The Village /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Judy Greer, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Produced by: Sam Mercer, Scott Rudin, M. Night Shyamalan
Written by:
M. Night Shyamalan
Touchstone Pictures


Bryce Dallas Howard in Touchstone Pictures' The Village
Joaquin Phoenix in Touchstone Pictures' The Village
Judy Greer in Touchstone Pictures' The Village

     With the release of Signs, many people referred to M. Night Shyamalan as “the new Spielberg.” The comparison seemed fair—both made science fiction films—embracing imaginatively realistic scenarios. Shyamalan’s latest work, The Village, has been receiving mixed reviews, but it is a much more mature film than any of the other titles on his resume. I originally hailed Signs, but its power wore off with multiple viewings. I am still mesmerized by it, but not as enchanted as I once was. The filmmaker’s new movie still relies on a shocking end-twist, but it is much more subdued and metaphorical, as it comes to reach it. In fact, I see Shyamalan turning into a Hitchcock, not a Spielberg. The Village reaffirms his sheer mastery behind the camera. This is an opus of a film that originally unravels to match the audience’s suspicions, but only for the purpose diverting them before unleashing a major, unpredictable ending twist.

     The story is almost impossible to explain without spoiling plot developments, so I suppose all I can support my opinions with, in this review, is the material shown in the film’s trailers. It’s around the time of the turn of the century, in 1897, in Covington, Pennsylvania. There are about seventy-five residents in the town and about a tenth of which are on its governing board. There is little crime in this village, aside from the occasional boy scaring another; bigger threats consume citizen’s minds. Surrounding Covington are woods, full of something fond of the color red—monsters—perhaps. When the community was founded, an agreement with these beings was formed; if the people were to not cross their borders, they would not meander into civilization. But, when Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Pheonix) intentionally walks past the stakes marking the village’s land, the surrounding creatures, who are supposedly lethal, strike back. At night, they invade the village. No one is injured, but many are left scared. Shortly thereafter, Lucius is stabbed by the mentally ill Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), and his blind fiancé, Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), must seek medicine for him in the closest town. After discovering something shocking, which I will not divulge (though it’s fairly guessable, when watching), she garners the courage to cross through the woods, with the permission of her father and town-leader, Edward (William Hurt). Come time for the beautiful ending, every loose end in The Village is tied, and perfectly so, at that.

     The Village is, ultimately, Bryce Dallas Howard’s motion picture. Ivy’s blindness is used to allow the plot to remain credible, in a sense, but it also symbolizes vulnerability. In this, another thought is further developed. Is this vulnerability a personal issue for her, or is it a result of her location? Probably a mixture of both, but it’s obvious that the latter bears a stronger weight on her shoulders. And, with each plot device, we learn that this, for her, along with the other villagers, is unnecessary, to say the least. Shyamalan’s execution shows that fear is usually generated by the imagination, whether it be in the head of the subject, or another person. It’s ironic that that statement kind of applies to The Village, as a whole. It’s a deceptive experience, but enlighteningly so. In fact, after the first thirty minutes, the concept of being afraid becomes more of a human characteristic than a supernatural one. The tone of the movie then shifts greatly, examining social dynamics more than terror.

     In addition to Ivy’s role, the rest of the citizens of the town are crucial to the way the film plays out. Their parts are subtler and less important than hers, but also influence the shock value of the third act. I question Lucius’ wounds being used as the backbone of events in the last two-thirds of the film, but Shyamalan pulls it off. This is not to say that Joaquin Phoenix’s performance isn’t anything short of terrific, and important to his character’s influence in the movie. He plays his role in a sympathetic way, which translates into the audience wanting to avenge what turns out to be his betrayal, led by both Noah and the founding board Covington. William Hurt’s depiction of disgusting confusion and confliction, internally, is exhibited amazingly by the accomplished actor, mainly through the simplest movements, twitches, and jerks of his body parts. Sigouney Weaver and Brendon Gleeson, two of my favorite veterans in the industry, are also fabulous. They embody their characters amazingly, given the fact that I assumed that they would seem out of place, here.

     I love the sense of intimacy that Shyamalan lets the villagers have. The observation of his camera is essential to one’s understanding of The Village. Consider a scene in which Ivy and Lucius embrace and kiss on a porch. Just as their lips touch each others, the focus of the audience is not pulled into their relationship, but to the rocking chair sitting next to the couple. And it’s not our right to know everything about them; they deserve their privacy. This may seem frustrating, because, when the film concludes, we find that secrecy is the only real reason Covington is so isolated. But, is it really the audience’s job to figure things out for the characters? Most definitely not; Shyamalan realizes that the villagers must fight their own battles, whether they are internal or external. As much as we want to put an end to the warfare (a term that I, of course, use as a hyperbole), it still exists as The Village fades to black and the end titles play. A resolution to all their problems may come some day, and that left me hopeful, which is satisfying, just the same.

     The pacing is dream-like, capturing the time period the film explores. (If you have seen it, you will understand the irony in that statement). As sleepy as the dialogue may seem, there’s true thought behind it, as well as its delivery. Here, viewers really have to think about daily life in 1987, in relationship to modern day progressions. Back then, people simplified their lives, believed in more myths, and dare I say it so obviously, talked slower. You’ll be contemplating this, whether you like it or not, granted you choose to give The Village a shot.

     This may be a mere assumption, but, without saying too much, I have a feeling that Shyalaman has very supportive feelings towards corporations. I can even explain myself, in this area, only using the premise, as stated in the ad-campaign. Covington is clearly not near any major cities, and suffers from inopportunity, as well as its problematic surrounding creatures. Would they be facing these troubles if they decided to be supportive of big business? If safety is the issue, then why do many people in the village want to leave it? And what about the bordering creatures? Aren’t they a threat to the psyche? Those who know several truths about the town’s founders’ decision to settle there, which are exposed throughout The Village, will be able to understand my suspicions, more sensibly, as they will take on another form, in such a context.

     The idea of evil in The Village is an intriguing one. Are there really any “bad” characters? We can certainly understand everyone’s reason for doing what they have in the film; intentions are the only defining line between sympathy and apathy. I suppose there doesn’t really have to be any characters who we cannot, for lack of a better phrase, find a common ground with, in a picture as thoughtful as this one. There is undeniably an antagonist, plot-wise, and we may despise them. But, none of their actions seem nonsensical, in the scheme of things. I’ve chosen to take The Village simply as a study of society and how knowledge leads to both its progression and decline. More over, isn’t the general creativity of Shyamalan so inspiring that there is no need for all of his picture’s elements to be totally decisive. It does not go without flaw, but doesn’t this very fact further promote the discussion of the themes of perfection (and even communism) in The Village? In its own bizarre way, this is a masterpiece. And, as long as the product isn’t offensive, a way is a way, and this one works for me.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (8.2.2004)

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