Pictures presents a film written and directed by M. Night
Shyamalan. Running time: 120 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for
a scene of violence and frightening situations). Starring
Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William
Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Judy Greer.
While I have tried my best to avoid revealing any overt spoilers,
reading reviews of this film ahead of time is probably a really
M. Night Shyamalan has come to be known as a "twist"
director, one whose meticulously crafted films always - always
- lead to a surprise. With mixed results (Signs, for
instance, I actively disliked), all of Shyamalan's previous
films have followed this pattern. So one would suspect that
his latest, The Village, would be the same, right?
Well, no. And Shyamalan may just be risking his career with
this challenging, thoughtful allegory.
but The Village certainly seems to be adhering to tradition,
with its meticulous, somber pacing, all of which seems to
clearly be leading up to one shocker of a revelation. And
this is where the film is going to lose audiences, because
once that revelation rolls around we realize that we've been
had, but only in a much different way than expected. Because
Shyamalan has trumped his own reputation by failing to provide
a "twist" in the traditional sense, instead letting
the plot progress naturally. Certainly some may be surprised,
but the final revelation is clearly telegraphed and easily
guessed at least thirty minutes in advance. This is intentional;
Shymalan has proven in the past that he is perfectly capable
of hoodwinking audiences. With The Village he has done
nothing short of examine the human condition, and he has exploited
our expectations of him to do it.
allegory can't stand up if the underlying story doesn't work,
and The Village's pretty much equals any of Shyamalan's
previous films. Set in 1897, the film explores the lives of
the inhabitants of a village surrounded by woods. In these
woods live monstrous creatures, with which the villagers have
an uneasy truce. Yellow is the "safe color," red
the "bad:" it attracts Them. When the monsters begin
leaving signs around the village - skinned animals, ominous
red markings on the doors - the village's elders, led by Edward
(William Hurt) panic. The fearless and quiet Lucius (Joaquin
Phoenix) volunteers to leave the village for medicine, but
is unable. Leaving instead is Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), Edward's
blind daughter. To reveal more would be doing a disservice.
has proven himself to be one of the medium's best technical
craftsmen, and, working with legendary cinematographer Roger
Deakins, he makes The Village one of the most visually
stunning films of the year. Dark and foreboding, the atmosphere
almost becomes (cliché alert!) a whole separate character.
Shyamalan chooses to shoot largely in wide shots, and when
he pulls in for extreme close-ups, the effect is jarring and
unsettling. James Newton Howard's score is haunting and beautiful.
a risky move, Shyamalan has placed his film squarely on the
shoulders of relative newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter
of director Ron Howard), and she proves to be more than up
for the task. Carefully balancing strength and innocence,
Howard creates a fully three-dimensional character. She has
a bright career ahead of her. Providing able support are Joaquin
Phoenix, Adrien Brody as the village idiot, William Hurt,
and Sigourney Weaver as another elder.
critical response so far to The Village is expected
but disappointing. Going into The Village expecting
something along the lines of Shyamalan's previous work is
just asking to be let down. The director is attempting so
much more, putting together a subtle, thought-provoking piece
about the lengths we will go to secure our own comfort and
our capacity for willful self-delusion. The film ends on a
dark, chilling, and perfect note. Anything less would be a
cop-out. Viewed as separate from Shyamalan's other pictures,
The Village is one of the year's best films.
2004 Matt Noller