The Village   

Lucius Hunt:Joaquin Phoenix
Ivy Walker:Bryce Dallas Howard
Edward Walker:William Hurt
Alice Hunt:Sigourney Weaver
Noah Percy:Adrien Brody
Kitty Walker:Judy Greer
Victor:Frank Collison
Jamison:Jesse Eisenberg


July 2004
"There are secrets in every corner of this village. Do you not feel it? Do you not see it?" Of course we can. They're as plentiful as maize is to fall harvest, obvious signs that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's ability to enthrall us may be waning. In his latest thriller, "The Village," a small community lives in peaceful co-existence with, of all things, flesh-eating monsters. But this symbiotic relationship is about to change when a heedless young man defies the rules, unintentionally breaking the truce and unleashing the creatures upon the village itself. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and stunning newcomer, Bryce Dallas Howard, the film prides itself on mystery only to have its secrets revealed in an embarrassingly clichéd and corny fashion. And in comparison to Shyamalan's previous works, "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," and "Signs," "The Village" is simply a bad premise with bad execution and too much hype.
At the start of the film, we observe a brief funeral of a young boy followed by a Pilgrim like feast. Says Edward Walker, the town's patriarch: "We are grateful for the time that has been given." This is the town of Covington in 1897, a small Pennsylvania community living in peace and harmony, isolated from the rest of the world by a thick, encompassing forest. Founded by Walker and a group of elders, Covington is not your typical Puritan village. You see, a race of creatures lives in the surrounding woods - a race of man-eating beasts. And the only thing keeping them away from the village is a truce made long ago. A truce that consists of the following rules:

    1.    Let the bad color not be seen. It attracts them.
    2.    Heed the warning bell for they are coming.
    3.    One man should hold post in the tower each night.
    4.    The safe color should be worn approaching the forbidden line.
    5.    Never enter the woods. That is where they wait.
So long as one obeys the rules of the village, they will stay safe. But as they say, rules are meant to be broken. And Lucius Hunt, the quiet and curious son of a village elder, is unafraid to voice his own opinions. Rather than see another child die of illness, he volunteers to venture out into the woods to the nearest town for some medicine. Unwilling to break the truce, the elders refuse him and in the interim, he finds solace with Ivy Walker, a beautiful blind girl with incredible perception and a fearlessness of her own. Ivy gives her heart freely to Lucius, despite compassion and friendship with the mentally challenged, Noah Percy.
Discontent and restless, the adventurous Lucius strays into the woods beyond the forbidden line and is observed by one of the creatures, known to the townsfolk as "Those We Don't Speak Of." This single action causes a cataclysmic series of events - red hooded, scarecrow-like creatures scavenge the village for meat, an unforeseen tragedy propels Ivy into the woods to find a cure at "the towns," and the truth behind the village and their way of life almost comes to an irreparable end.
"The Village" is a curious thriller that emphasizes atmosphere and mood over content. In fact, Shyamalan's strength is his ability to create a story from a single frame of mind or feeling. Just look at the way he uses color. In "The Sixth Sense," he used the color red to suggest the appearance of apparitions. In "Unbreakable," he used the color purple to symbolize the force of evil. And in "The Village," he uses the red and gold to separate community from creature. "Let the bad color not be seen" denotes the first law of the village. And with that, red flowers are buried, red berries are discarded, and blood washed away.

In the film, the chief character is the village, an Amish type community overlooking a dark and mysterious wood. It is a unique setting for sure, but one in which the tone is far too melancholy, where characters speak very little and exercise even fewer facial expressions. Luckily, "The Village" benefits from the performance of Ron Howard's daughter, Bryce Howard. Howard's Ivy breaks through the morose as a character full of life and purpose. She comforts her sister after rejection, befriends and tends to the village idiot, and finds a love that she's willing to risk her life for. On top of that, her blindness merely acts as a reflection of inner beauty and innocence. And as strenuous an effort as it may have been, it is sure to make Howard a star.
But apart from Ivy, the film is almost in complete disorder. Unlike Shayamalan's previous efforts, "The Village" mixes suspenseful moments with dull ones. And there aren't very many suspenseful moments outside of the initial appearance of "Those We Don't Speak Of." Rather than escalating into a climax, the film is broken up, revealing some of its inner most secrets too soon and thereby putting a damper on the rest of the film. It's the equivalent of riding a roller coaster and the operator stopping the ride before the big drop. Here, the end result might have been completely different had Edward not taken Ivy to the wood shed a little more than halfway into the film. And while I admire Shyamalan's creativity and his ability to drive suspense with twists and turns, I have to conclude that after this reveal, the thrill is gone.

The script itself could use a bit of doctoring, especially the dialogue. Just listening to William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, and others recite their lines straight faced as Amish types is almost laughable. The reason for this is due to Shyamalan's shortsightedness, namely his inability to sacrifice mood for character. By placing atmosphere ahead of personality, nary a character stands out save for the heroine, Ivy. And the end result is a village filled with an awkward rigidity.
The film desperately wants to mean something. It wants to confront the notion of fear, but is too afraid to address it more prominently - the fear of the unknown, the fear of breaking the rules, the fear of losing a son or daughter. With the constant fear of terrorism in today's world, even a parent's reassurance may not suffice to calm a child's fear of random acts of violence. But it is through community that we can find comfort in sorrow, support in trying times, and encouragement and strength to carry on. Yes, "the only thing to fear is fear itself" (Roosevelt). And I was surprised to find that the film's message wasn't as encouraging, particularly after 9/11. For in the film, rather than fight the creatures together, they separate into their homes and hide in individual shelters. And even more twisted, the elders of the community use the fear as an excuse to refrain from action, even if that action may, in turn, save lives.

M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller, "The Village," is shrouded in secrecy. There are good secrets, there are bad secrets, and those secrets the motion picture companies don't want you to know before you purchase your ticket. After building a reputation as an innovative filmmaker with suspenseful last minute twists, Shyamalan has finally succumbed to the gimmick. For the payoff in "The Village" is not one of creativity and purpose; it's one of convention and betrayal. Despite a genuine performance from Howard, some moody music and ambience, the wool no longer covers our eyes. Instead, a writer awakens from his dream and finds only a one trick pony.

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"A bad premise with bad execution and too much hype."
"Howard's Ivy breaks through the morose as a character full of life and purpose."
"The payoff in 'The Village' is not one of creativity and purpose; it's one of convention and betrayal."