The leafless woods’ alarming hem
Does greet our eyes on every side.
A wall for us but not for them,
Where those we do not speak of hide.
Branches hang low
But point to the sky
To silently show
Where we go when we die.
The elders say our safety’s sure
Within the glen the village claims,
But who can feel safe or secure
When watched by creatures without names?
And nobody hears,
But none disagrees,
And everyone fears.
Since starting out his career as a director with three excellent films in my view (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), M. Night Shyamalan has certainly had his ups and downs, with The Last Airbender being the low point. Nowadays his films are greeted with a mixture of optimism and misgivings, but back in 2004, there was still good reason to have high hopes for his fourth feature, The Village. Seen as a turning point between “good Shyamalan” and “bad Shyamalan,” The Village is indeed a middle-of-the-road effort with a plot that can’t help but buckle under its expected assumptions.
The titular village of Covington is home to a collection of folk living their best 19th-century life, including Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard in her first major role), the blind daughter of the village’s Chief Elder (William Hurt), and Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), a young man who wants to leave the village and venture to the distant towns for medical supplies. Yet the elders forbid leaving the village due to the ever-present fear of what lies in the surrounding woods, red-cloaked creatures known as “Those We Don’t Speak Of.”
There are plenty of elements to admire about The Village, notably James Newton Howard’s haunting Oscar-nominated score, which I heard and loved long before I even considered seeing its source. Shyamalan’s adroit camerawork and use of color also add to the atmosphere, and as with his other films, the script and camera are careful to only reveal what he wants the audience to know. The problem is that a thinking audience who knows Shyamalan’s penchant for twists can fill in gaps. While I went in knowing what to expect, my VC did not and yet still guessed the main “twist” long before its reveal. Plus, it feels like it ends too soon, with one subplot regarding romantic tension between William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver’s characters going nowhere.
I can see how The Village can be mocked and defended in equal measure. Its story might be labeled “dumb” (and has), but it’s far more psychological than the horror tale it may seem like on the surface. I could see it as a short story from some acclaimed writer, with its character archetypes and old-timey dialogue. (By the way, the quaint dialogue is both a plus and a minus. Most of the actors make it work, but Judy Greer’s delivery of one line is especially cringe-worthy.) The Village is not necessarily a bad film, but it’s a very fragile one, liable to fall apart if you ask too many questions. It’s neither as scary nor as deep as it wants to be, but it’s still a far sight better than Shyamalan’s low points since.
Best line: (Ivy) “Sometimes we don’t do things we want to do so that others won’t know we want to do them.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2021 S.G. Liput
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