Tomatometer: 43% Audience Score: 57% IMDb: 6.5
Night Shyamalan was, for a certain part of this millennium, treated as a notorious failure, someone who rose to the top on the back of an anomalous success and continued to make one dud after the other. One of those duds, according to most critics and even audience members, is The Village, which entered theaters in 2004. But there’s plenty of redeeming qualities that make this movie officially “Not So Rotten.”
The Village documents the mysterious and peculiar lives of a group of Rural Pennsylvanians isolated from the rest of the world, cut off by the confines of their settlement and the forest surrounding them. It’s run by a group of Elders who’ve managed to negotiate terms with insurmountable creatures populating the forests around them. In essence, the villagers will live by a certain set of rules and the creatures of the forest will let them be. Some of the more odd guidelines include the prohibition of the color red within the village boundaries, whether that be on clothes or even foliage and flowers. But the most crucial commandment is to never enter the forest that surrounds the village.
The stage is set when one of the elders, August Nicholson (Brendan Gleeson), loses his son to a mystery illness. A young man in the village, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), wishes to go to the towns beyond the village and the forest, in the hopes of bringing back medicine to prevent any further losses to the closely-knit community. Though refused by the elders, Lucius’ noble pursuits plunge the entire village into a series of increasing misfortunes, likely to unravel the fabric holding the place at the seams.
The most compelling aspect of the movie is its uneasy atmosphere, supported on the first level by the soundtrack and cinematography. The dull, gloomy surrounds are frequently robbed of sunlight and drenched in fog and mist. At night, even the warmer lights from candles, fires, and light bulbs aren’t their usual selves, appearing a little softer than usual. Their sights are set low, ensuring that darkness prevails for the most part. The classical music in the background takes you back a couple decades or even centuries when common folk were more likely to believe in the mythical and fantastical, all leading you to lose your sense of where and when the film takes place. It’s a great foundation for the film, the picture and the sound enhancing the mystery of the plot, at least initially. Eery stuff.
From there, the people are even stranger. Their mannerisms are antiquated, the courtship practices regressive, or this could just be Joaquin Phoenix’s Lucius. He mumbles his way through a written speech to the elders as he attempts to persuade them on the merits of leaving the village to get medicine, bearly looking up from his piece of paper. And when the blind Ivy Walker ( Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of Chief Elder Edward Walker (William Hurt), expresses her romantic interest in Lucius, he’s unable to reciprocate conventionally. He initially responds with silence, head buried in his chest.
But this discomfort serves its purpose. It’s a courtship that is right for the time period when people were more subtle and roundabout with their intentions. It’s beautiful to watch because the characters would rather take months to know each other rather than roll in the hay on a first date. Just the way I like it.
The romance complicates the mystery of the movie. How does Lucius grapple with his love for Ivy and his plan to leave the village, possibly never to return again? It’s Lucius’ need to get help for the village and his curiosity of what lies beyond in the forest that enables the grim activities to occur with increasing frequency. Should he choose to stay in the village and marry the woman he loves, will these inexplicable events stop?
Shyamalan places these two elements of love and mystery delicately in the balance, teasing the viewer until a surprise event thrusts the characters and the plot into a state of chaos. What’s remarkable in The Village is how even-handed it is with both Lucius and Ivy. They both display strength in different ways. Lucius, a taciturn and reserved man who displays courage through his actions, and Ivy, the blind daughter of Edward Walker reveling in life, dancing and prancing about as if she’d lived and seen the world with both her eyes her entire life. These are not people who can be contained, and their character and nature are at odds with the status quo of the community.
It’s a relationship the audience can root for as the village gets plagued with bizarre occurrences. Skinned animals are found lying around and the creatures of the forest, half-man half-beast, make unwarranted appearances to keep the people of the village in check. The message is clear. Do not leave the village and enter the forest. Only trouble will follow. But can the inquisitive Lucius and Ivy stay grounded by the Elders’ commands?
As much as the protagonists yearn to see what is beyond the village, so does the audience. The isolation is deafening at times. You can hear the wind howling during the day and the crickets chirping at night. The sound of feet trampling leaves and fire torches crackling is heard from afar. No wonder some wish to leave even in when they fear the unknown.
The Village is almost always about a feeling. A feeling of anxiety and unease about what lies beyond, and what might arrive if you stray too far from your path. It’s understandably a let down when the typical Shyamalan twist delivers a toddler’s pat on the face rather than a pugilist’s punch, replacing the haunting mystery of the forests with some ludicrous machinations imposed for order and stability.
But that sickening feeling that builds for the better part of the movie does hold throughout, and a tremendous ensemble cast led by Phoenix and Dallas Howard fuels your interest in the eccentricities and enigmas of the namesake village and its people. Some might be disappointed by the finale, but a unique blend of love and mystery is potent under the right circumstances. And this is one.
- Joaquin and Bryce Dallas are one of a kind. Girl meets nerd. Love follows. What’s not to like?
- The soundtrack and the visual palette will keep you on your toes and make you uncomfortable.
- Come across some odd people. Weirder than that cousin of yours.
- The Shyamalan twist at the end might disappoint some/most, but it’s smart and ambitious in its simplicity.
Movie Info (From IMDb)
Production Companies: Touchstone Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan
Running Time: 109 minutes