DVD Review: The Village

M. Night Shyamalan’s spectacular feature debut The Sixth Sense established him as a dyanmic new force in the world of supernatural thrillers. His follow-up efforts Unbreakable and Signs showed that he had staying power, that his creative energies were sufficient to enable him to single-handedly define an entirely new subgenre of a well-established category of film.

Shyamalan’s most recent offering The Village demonstrates how successful he has been in establishing the genre associated with him. The Village manages to be generic in the worst sense of the word, following all of the conventions without adding anything new.

The setup is spooky, to be sure. The residents of the tiny late 19th century village of Covington Woods live in isolation, cut off from the outside world by the surrounding forest, where menacing, unnamed monsters live. We learn early on that the villagers and the unnamed ones maintain an uneasy truce. The villagers do not enter the woods, and the monsters do not enter the village. The arrangement is rather one-sided however. The villagers keep their end of the bargain because they fear the man-eating monsters; the monsters honor the deal because, well, who knows why they do, or how they came to make the deal in the first place.

Lately, however, the boundaries have begun to soften. Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), grieving the death of a village child due to lack of medical supplies, desires to travel through the forest to “the towns,” where life-saving medicines may be obtained, The village elders, including Edward Walker (William Hunt) refuse, on the grounds that the monsters will not approve. In the meantime, small animals are found around the village with their fur removed and their flesh torn, causing much consternation among the village inhabitants, already skittish about their mysterious neighbors.

Lucius is wooed by Walker’s daughter, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is blind, but who is more confident and capable than the other young people of the village. She has a special relationship with the village idiot, Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), who has a capacity for violence, but submits to the calming influence of Ivy.

I can’t say too much more about the plot without giving away the surprise ending(s). Suffice it to say that things are not as they seem. The problem, of course, is that by now, we know not to believe the surface explanations of Shyamalan’s movies, and the surprises, while reasonably well-contrived, do nothing to amaze, astound, or stupefy. Instead, the feeling I was left with was, “Oh, yes, that makes sense now.” Many critics have complained that the plot twist was obvious from the beginning, and that Rod Serling did it first. I was unable to guess what was going on until it was revealed, but when I found out the truth, it didn’t much change how I experienced the story I had experienced up to that point — I have no desire to view the movie again from the beginning to see how my new knowledge changes my perception.

Even the direction is somewhat by the book as written by Shyamalan. The opening scene of the underappreciated Unbreakable is a marvelous bit of filmmaking, as we observe Bruce Willis’ character flirting with a fellow passenger on a train through the spaces between seats, as if we were a child spying on the couple behind us. The shot places the viewer right in the middle of the action, but at a distance as well — it’s intensely voyeuristic. Shyamalan uses the same trick several times in The Village, shooting the character or object of interest through the space between two people or a doorway, but to no discernable end, other than it makes for an interesting visual. Like much of the rest of the movie, the idea seems to be, “it worked before, so let’s do it again.”

The sound design is terrific as the prime means of conveying the menacing presence of the monsters, and Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of Ron Howard) makes a fine feature film debut as Ivy, although she’s not terribly convincing as a blind person (perhaps a bit of an overambitious role for a newcomer). Joaquin Phoenix and Adrien Brody turn in servicable, if unspectacular, performances. William Hurt is ultimately unconvincing as a wise authority figure struggling with his conscience (although talk to me after you see the movie and I can give an arugment for why his performance is actually unintentionally excellent given the larger context of the plot). Sigourney Weaver makes an appearance as Lucius’ mother that could have turned into something interesting, but which is in the end unimportant to the plot.


16 thoughts on “DVD Review: The Village

  1. It was obvious to me that he was trying to say something about 9-11 in this movie. Everyone who watched it with me thinks I am nuts for saying that. I am not quite sure what he is trying to say though. The movie was frustrating to me in that I figured out the twist from the previews, so my experience watching it was flawed. I have to admit that I never even saw the twist coming in The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable. Signs didn’t have as much of a twist. All of his movies seem to be more about anticipation than fulfillment.

  2. My wife and I enjoyed watching the Village the first time around. I rented the DVD but didn’t enjoy it was much. I let myself get distracted on purpose.

    BTW, my wife and I went to see Hitch last night and except for some gratuitous profanity (one f-bomb is noticeably dropped by Will Smith’s character) we found ourselves laughing throughout the show. It’s a fun date movie if you can endure the aforementioned flaw.

  3. a random John —

    Many reviewers have commented on the homeland security intepretation of the movie. The easiest to draw comparison is the color scheme in the movie — red is the color of the monsters, yellow is the color of the villagers, corresponding in part to the color-coded terror alert level. More general is the problem of security and liberty. Our efforts to protect ourselves and our families can result in the loss of our freedoms, with potentially disastrous consequences. There’s also a message about the stories that we tell, and their ability to become the truth despite the fact that we tell them knowing that they are lies.

    It’s all in there, but this movie isn’t good enough to handle the weight of social commentary on top of its primary task of entertaining.

  4. shyamalan had a previous script with an ending that was pretty controversial and upset so many people he changed it to something a little more subtle. Everyone talks about the social commentary and it’s obvious shyamalan has something to say about white americans who are afraid of whatever is “outside their borders”. but if this is a social commentary…then why are we rooting for these people? shouldn’t we rather hope they’d see the error of their ways and make amends? by the end of the film it’s buisness as usual.

  5. This is one lame movie. The only thing that keeps me from elucidating its spectacular lameness is the desire not to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it. As soon as Shyamalan titled the film “M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S THE VILLAGE” I knew he’d peaked. After reading the comments I’d rather see “BRYCE INOYUE’S THE VILLAGE.”

    What I can say without ruining it is that Shyamalan fails at capturing how people spoke in the late 1800s (ultimately, one actually wonders why he needed to try). He also strains credibility past the breaking point repeatedly. I just don’t see a blind girl making it through the forest alone and that’s just for starters. Plus, I think that the entire scenario would have been a lot more plausible and socially relevant if the village had been a religious community.

    What annoyed me most is the cutesy little director’s cameo. Who does he think he is Hitchcock? Wait. Don’t answer that. I know the answer.

  6. I really, really disliked this movie. One or two frightening moments can’t disguise the nonsensical plot. Once the twist is revealed, the whole thing just falls apart. Shyamalan should be ashamed for making a terrible movie and arrested for one especially egregious use of slow-motion.

  7. I disagree with the whole 9/11 social agenda situation. First of all, in order to believe that, you have to believe that the warning system and caution provided by the US government has all been a ploy to keep us scared so we will support their war so they can help get a little extra cash on the side from some of their friends who have some investments in the military equipment business. I think Shyamalan is smart enough not to buy into this, and I don’t think he would make a movie about it.

    I think the twist just came to his mind and he thought it would make a cool movie. The rest of the film is just trying to fill up the time. Unfortunately, I must agree that this is his weakest entry to date.

  8. Godot,

    WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN’T FIGURED IT OUT ALREADY!!!!!! Editors, feel free to delete this if it isn’t appropriate.
    I don’t think this movie would have ever been made if 9-11 hadn’t happened. It is about a possible reactions to violence in society. These people choose to do something specific when something terrible happened to them.

    It is also about being afraid of the “boogeyman” and how a parents’ reaction to terror can unintentionally lead to their children being terrorized.

    Finally, it is about the paternalism of the government. We (the children, maybe more specifically the blind children) are not allowed to understand the threat in any detail and have no way of knowing when it is real and when it is an invention.

    I think all of these explainantions are a strech, but I don’t think he would have ever made the movie if 9-11 hadn’t occurred.

  9. Bryce–

    I never really thought of yours as a name that swings both ways. I guess Ron Howard will be naming his next daughter Dallin.

  10. Dallin–

    Yeah, I was a bit weirded out by that.

    I think I’ve seen a female Dallin out there, actually.

  11. Gary: an information on what the original ending was supposed to be, or a link to a previous draft?

    Personally, I liked the movie. It did, however, have a “based on a book” feeling to it–I mean, it felt like he was leaving out whole sections of exposition and non-plot directed thoughts.

    I think it would make one killer book in the hands of a good writer.

  12. Ha! Reading that makes it sound like he actually read the shooting script. I can see his face now, as he sits in the theater watching the movie…and it slowly dawns on him that it’s the same script he initially read.

    Now that’d be a horror movie.

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