No one who has ever seen M. Night Shyamalan’s previous films could possibly be satisfied with “The Village,” a manipulative thriller that builds itself up on a false premise only to crumble so hard in the final act that we’re still reeling upon exiting the theater.
Shyamalan’s previous effort, “Signs,” received from me an enthusiastic ‘A’. It had something that “The Village” lacks. Suspense. It was something this film isn’t. Scary. And if you’re one of those pesky moviegoers who didn’t buy “Signs” and thought it was one of the most overrated movies of 2002, then “The Village” is a movie you can bring a pillow to.
The film opens with a funeral for a fallen child attended by all the villagers. The engraved tombstone tells us the time period though the 19th century costumes worn by the rural Pennsylvania villagers is all that we need to know. The funeral scene followed immediately by evening supper shows us that the town does everything concurrently and at the same pace.
The village is led by Edward Walker (William Hurt), an authoritative figure whom I assume is respected by all considering there’s no police force and no real jails. Whatever he says, goes. His daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), is blind - important to the plot - and falls in love with Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), a quiet and reserved young man who turns down a marriage proposal by Ivy’s sister, Kitty (Judy Greer). He has a widowed mother named Alice (Sigourney Weaver), who develops feelings for Edward even though the film doesn’t, and she too is a widow. Then there’s the village idiot, Noah (Adrien Brody), but to say he’s the odd fellow would be to overlook the fact that every character seems to have something wrong with them.
The village is surrounded by dense woods which must never be ventured into because it is inhabited by blood-thirsty creatures, although they’re kind enough to hold a verbal truce with the villagers: The villagers must never enter the woods and in return the creatures will never go into the village.
The creatures are called Those We Do Not Speak Of, even though most of the time the characters are speaking of Those We Do Not Speak Of. We only get to see the Those We Do Not Speak Of a few times in brief glimpses. They are tall, skinny and hooded by a red cape covered with dry twigs. But red isn’t how the villagers describe the color, it’s called “the bad color.” So the Those We Do Not Speak Of wear “the bad color” and stalk the villagers evoking massive fright and a call to action by some of the townspeople.
So bad “the bad color” is that it is forbidden in the town. Whenever the children find something red growing out of the earth they must promptly pull it by its roots and bury it beneath the grass.
We assume - because it’s unexplained - that the color red...I mean, “the bad color” provokes Those We Do Not Speak Of in the same way that a “the bad color”-flag provokes the bull in a Mexican bullfighting ring.
Because the villagers can never go into the woods they must be self-sufficient and survive without outside influences and technology. They grow their own food and do everything out of respect for each other considering no currency is involved. It is believed, as Edward explains, that money turns good people bad. Well, maybe except for the catering company that prepares the nightly feast.
Because the town doesn’t import, Lucius and other characters petition the counsel of elders to go into “the towns” on the other side of the woods for supplies. The counsel of elders is comprised of the senior members of the village and decide the laws and make final judgments. Minors are not allowed at the meetings and are never granted permission to cross the town’s border marked by yellow flags and torches.
The characters are drearily uninteresting. Whereas in “Signs” there was complete, witty dialogue that had us laughing in the calm before the storm, “The Village” is tedious and annoying. Characters look at each other with long faces and take several moments to answer questions and perform basic functions such as turning a key.
For reasons that -- after seeing the entire film still don’t make sense -- Those We Do Not Speak Of get anxious and no longer welcome the settlers. First they infiltrate the village during a night wedding (where of course the entire townsfolk is in attendance) and brutally murder the livestock. Not entirely, however. The animals are skinned but the flesh is left intact. Then they leave red marks on the door of the main house, warning the people to leave. Night watchmen from tall towers sound the bells alerting the people into their basements while Those We Do Not Speak Of bang on doors and evoke bedlam. At this point I was remembering “Signs,” but only then and during the obligatory Shyamalan cameo does any part of this film resemble Shyamalan and his brilliant filmmaking style clearly absent this time around.
While the elders nervously convene to discuss a course of action, the younger villagers such as Lucius and Ivy become aware of hidden secrets the elderly people of the town have been keeping. There’s a reason why the youngsters are kept out of the town meetings.
That the town’s big secret remains as such is the hardest plot element to swallow, considering at one point in the movie Lucius threatens to open the black box concealing the biggest secret of their existence. When his mother tells him not to open it, she just walks away into a different room. To the unseen reader it may not sound like a such a bad folly, but when you finally learn the big twist at the end you’ll realize that there’s no way this could have been kept a secret for so long.
But the most disappointing aspect of the film is that it simply lacks the brooding atmosphere we’ve come to expect from Shyamalan’s films. “The Village” is boring, uninteresting and when it’s over we feel cheated. The twist doesn’t work and we begin to reflect on how badly we were baited. We think about the plot holes and shake our heads at the attempt by Shyamalan’s character to patch them up. These issues are not what we normally think about after watching Shyamalan films. Oh yes, M. Night’s next film has much to make up for.
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