The Village comes to us with more manufactured hype than should be allowed by law. First the Sci-Fi Channel produces a ‘documentary’ about its director, M. Night Shyamalan, called The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, purporting to reveal all sorts of juicy dirt about the director. The week that The Village is set to open, Sci-Fi confesses it’s all a hoax. Details of the plot have been minimal. No one will do press. No one will talk about the movie at all. Come screening week, security is tight at advance previews: Online press are strictly disallowed at the advances; instead we’re shooed into a late Thursday-night showing, giving us mere hours to whip up a review just in time for the Friday crush of traffic. So here I sit, pushing midnight, ready to give you my thoughts on The Village.
Why all the misdirection from Shyamalan? Well, here’s the truth: The Village isn’t a really a traditional suspense flick at all. The first full hour is largely comprised of a romance – or various romances – between its stars. Joaquin Phoenix is a quiet lad named Lucius living in an 1897 village formed in a clearing in the woods in Pennsylvania, where some 30 or so folks reside. Bryce Dallas Howard (the girl who looks like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) plays his eventual girlfriend, Ivy, the blind daughter of the town’s leader of sorts, Edward (William Hurt). Lucius and Ivy take a long while to fall in love – meanwhile we slowly learn about the village. Here, they grow their own vegetables, they do a mean square dance, and then there’s the matter of the monsters in the woods.
That’s right. The monsters. In the woods. Here’s what we know about them: The color red makes them want to attack. The color yellow keeps them at bay. There’s an uneasy peace between the monsters and the village folk, and as long as the proper sacrifices are made, there’s no problem. Oh, and no one can go into the woods, ever.
This means the village is completely isolated from the outside world – and as far as the villagers are concerned that’s for the best. All the elders came here to escape ‘the towns’ years ago, where each faced some tragedy in their lives. They formed this community to keep life simple, and no one’s coming or going, period.
And so it is, after an hour of lovey dovey, that it’s finally time for someone to venture into the woods in search of ‘medicines’ from the towns. Enter creepy woods-venturing footage for the remainder of the film. In a nutshell, it’s Splendor in the Grass meets The Blair Witch Project. You can take that any way you’d like to.
Thank God this has Shyamalan’s signature spin on it, because the romance part of the film is otherwise a dud. Those looking for twists (and in an M. Night film, that’s gonna be the entire audience) won’t be disappointed. Not only does he throw a few doozies our way (some you’ll guess, some you won’t), he keeps the plot careening along with carefully planned surprises. The mid-film injury that sends our hero into the woods is wholly unexpected and a very clever way to keep the audience guessing. Watch for the clues, though, and you’ll figure enough out to feel good about yourself in the end.
Unfortunately I can’t say any more about the story without giving too much away. Performances are good all-around – and while you’ll find that some of the actors seem stilted, there’s good reason for it. The picture is well made, with intriguing shot choices and incredible use of the camera to keep the suspense level high. Only Shyamalan can get your blood pumping as a character slowly opens a wooden chest.
It’s too bad then that the pacing in the first half of the film is so pokey as to get the second half stuck in catch-up mode. Shyamalan isn’t content to have a romance between Lucius and Ivy, he also has Lucius’s mom (an underused Sigourney Weaver) flirting with Ivy’s dad, Ivy’s sister flirting with Lucius, the village idiot (Adrien Brody) coming after Ivy, and Ivy’s sister marrying another guy altogether. That’s a heap of good loving for such a Podunk town, and it’s way too much for the first act of a thriller.
Fortunately, the generally excellent filmmaking and clever plot twists redeem things on the whole. The Village can be an experience that tries your patience, but it’ll undoubtedly have you talking about it to your friends once it’s over.
On DVD, the film includes a lengthy making-of featurette, readings from Howard’s production diary, 10 minutes of deleted scenes, and an awful Indiana Jones knockoff Shyamalan made as a child. The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan is also available as a seperate disc.
It takes a village… to make a crown of flowers.