Written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Juaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, William
Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Judy Greer,
Frank Collison, Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Pitt
The twist ending in “The Village” is
both painfully obvious and undeniably impossible.
It’s also stupid and forced. While the premise
could potentially create an interesting social commentary,
director M. Night Shyamalan loses track of any such
ambitions by making a film more like a boring period
melodrama than a highly suspenseful thriller.
In his latest spooky suspense ride for which the
ending can’t be revealed—in this case
because it would spoil the surprise lack of focus
or ideas—a pioneer village surrounded by dark
woods lives in fear. The creatures, aka “Those
We Don’t Speak Of” if you’re not
into the whole brevity thing, that live in the woods
have a pact with the villagers elders: As long as
the humans don’t walk in the woods for the
creatures to find them and eat them, the creatures
won’t come into the town and eat them. Red, “the
forbidden color,” isn’t allowed either.
The color is so forbidden that even the happy, dainty
young women sweeping the porch must shudder and run
into the field to bury a blooming flower. Yellow
is “the safe color,” and the watchmen
wear yellow cloaks, hang yellow flags on the torches
on the town’s boarder and paint yellow marks
randomly on whichever torch posts they feel like
painting. The creatures wear red cloaks over their
bony fingers, I guess to protect them from yellow.
The six town elders, who are in their 50s or 60s,
oversee their children. One of them has just lost
a young child, and cries by the small coffin before
a large town feast that is made all the more somber
when the woods generate some creepy noises.
This is one depressing town. While Shyamalan’s
last film, “Signs,” featured some nice
comedy involving an unknowing writer’s instructions
for avoiding aliens, this one only has a few attempts
at humor while it marches through a dearth of dark
The film’s drama seems to centers around a
few different characters, as we wait for one of them
to take hold of the film. Lucius (Juaquin Phoenix),
whose mother Alice (Sigourney Weaver) is on the board
of elders, is a stoic and brave young man who is
willing to go through the woods to the “towns” outside
and get medicines to make the villagers healthy.
Of course, his mom and the other elders don’t
take kindly to this. William Hurt as Edward is the
educational authority of the town, who runs the school
and regrets the recent deaths and what not that have
brought down the town’s spirit. His oldest
daughter has the hots for Lucius, but finds difficulty
courting him because he doesn’t say anything.
His younger, blind daughter, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard),
however, becomes quite the love interest.
Ivy works with her father at the school, where she
has a special bond with the children and Noah. Adrien
Brody has the thankless role of the generic mentally
disabled character who laughs and plays with the
forbidden colors when everyone else is afraid of
the creatures. An actor of Brody’s abilities
deserves more to work with than one-dimensional stereotypes.
The great problem with the character dynamics is
that no one has a chance to respond to the twist
that Shyamalan values more than the people in his
story. After the revelation, the film shows very
little of the character who has a hint of the discovery.
The reactions should be the most interesting moments,
and we don’t get to hear from any of the most
intriguing characters before the credits start to
role. Howard has enormous screen charisma, and Phoenix
creates an interesting character who hides his charisma,
but it’s all for nothing.
Other wasted actors include Michael Pitt, as a yellow—and
not just because of his cloak—guardsman who
whines a lot, and Weaver in a throwaway bit of sexual
Shyamalan’s previous films like “Signs” and “The
Sixth Sense” have recalled the days of suspense
over special effects, and here he tries to create
an impending feeling of creepiness over life in the
village. Unfortunately, the life isn’t at all
interesting. The film sinks in hackneyed discussions
about love and cryptic, familiar arguments between
the elders regarding the “pledges” they
made, and other such nonsense.
At one point, one character gives another character
important information, and the scene cuts away before
we find out what it is. Then, five minutes or so
later, before anything of particular note happens,
Shyamalan cuts back to the rest of the scene. This
does nothing dramatically or artistically for the
film, and appears to be motivated entirely by manipulation.
Furthermore, the scene after it creates more annoyance
than suspense because the flashback undermines it.
The film’s real theme is about the culture
of fear, I think, but it has no real substance. The
tone won’t commit to hope or sinister pessimism.
The subtext could have been explored much better
in a straightforward story. “The Village” is
more about surprising the audience than offering
them something to think about.
[Side note to the director for the writing of his
next film: If you want someone to find something
under the floorboards, don’t establish a different
storage location earlier in the film.]