The Village – Review
A series of events tests the beliefs of a small isolated countryside village.
We are entering the final week of our Fall Themed Horror Series. It’s been an interesting venture with some fun films. We still have a few more to go, however, including one on Thanksgiving day itself. I actually love thanksgiving. I’m from Wales so, obviously, I don’t actually celebrate it. Being a huge NFL fan, however, I will be spending the day watching the games and eating too much. Anyways, pushing that randomness aside. Today we are taking a look at a movie that pissed a lot of people off – The Village.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The Village attracted a whole bunch of controversy back in 2004. Naturally we will go into that a bit later on in the review. For now, let’s take a look at the film. This is a bit of a tough one as it’s more of a thriller than anything. Despite that, there are some scenes here that are truly creepy. Shyamalan really knows how to build scares and I think this movie flies under the radar. As far as movies set in fall goes, they don’t get much more autumnal than this. In fact, the production was delayed due to a late autumn season. The lack of fallen leaves was a problem. So, without further ado, let’s take a look. As always, I will give a quick breakdown of the movie so feel free to skip if you like.
Fall Themed Horror Month
November is Fall Themed Horror month. We will be reviewing a few movies every week that feature an autumn setting. The criteria is pretty broad here as the fall setting is rarely pivotal to the plot of a movie. It’s more of a coincidence than anything. Fallen leaves and orange hues are a must, however. When Fall Themed Horror month is over, we move onto December and Awful Advent. 25 days of Christmas themed horror reviews leading up to the big day. Definitely keep an eye out for that.
The Village – Synopsis
The Village starts with the funeral of a young boy. The residents of the 19th century Pennsylvania settlement are lacking in medicine. It would appear that this fact has seemingly lead to the loss. Isolated from the rest of the world. The members of the community do not travel outside of the village’s boundary. The fear of “Those we don’t speak of” keeps them from leaving. A barrier has been constructed around the area. Permanently manned watch towers keep a constant eye out for threats. An understanding has formed between the creatures in the woods and the villagers. The residents make offerings of meat, avoid the colour red, and do not enter the woods. As long as they do this, “Those we don’t speak of” leave them alone.
At a town meeting, young man Lucius Hunt, played by Joaquin Phoenix, speaks to the elders. He offers to visit the nearby town to purchase medicine. Tired of seeing people suffering, he pleads with the elders to let him go. The elders have all made vows to never return to the town. Having experienced horrific events there, they deny Lucius permission. His mother Alice, played by Sigourney Weaver, finds out about his request. She is distraught and does not want him to leave. Alice tells him about what happened to his father. She claims there is only evil in the town and he should stay. He pacifies his mother but still seems intent on leaving.
Those We Don’t Speak Of – Synopsis Cont.
Lucius sits with his blind childhood friend Ivy and local man Noah. Ivy, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, and Noah, played by Adrien Brody, are extremely close. Noah is developmentally delayed and Ivy spends a lot of time playing with him. The three sit eating while Noah plays tricks on Ivy. He pulls a frog out of his pocket and puts it into her hand. Next, he pulls red berries out of his pocket. Lucius points out to Ivy that they are “the bad colour” and asks Noah where he got them. Noah shows him a picture of the woods drawn on a rock.
Later, while on guard at the border, Lucius enters the forbidden woods and finds the berries. Apparently, this breaking of the rules did not go unnoticed. That night, “Those we don’t speak of” enter the village and leave warnings to the residents. Lucius apologises to the community in a meeting but the creatures cannot be appeased. They are now visiting the village frequently. The villagers are forced to hide in purpose made basements inside of their houses. Lucius stands guard at Ivy’s home, seemingly wanting to protect her. Little does he realise. He has set off a chain of events that could result in tragedy. Ultimately, it will reveal the secrets of the settlement and its residents.
As mentioned above, The Village is really more of a thriller than a horror. Slow paced and methodical, there is a heavy drama leaning throughout. The horror elements, however, are very much present and seriously creepy. I honestly believe that The Village is grossly overlooked. It is a fantastic option for those of us looking for a genuinely tense and atmospheric movie.
Set in a small settlement that appears to be isolated from nearby towns. The elders speak of the horrifying experiences that lead them to the village. Some lost relatives, some were harmed, others were robbed. All were too traumatised to stay in their original homes. The people of the community live in constant fear of the beings that live in the surrounding woods. They have assembled a barrier ahead of the trees and keep watch at all hours. The colour red attracts the creatures so it must be removed from the town wherever it appears. The colour yellow appears to offer some form of protection. The guards paint yellow onto the stakes that mark the border and wear yellow cowls. Although incidents have been minimal, the uneasy truce appears to be coming to an end.
Skinned animals have been appearing in the grounds of the settlement. Lucius’s desperately intrudes into the territory of the creatures. In response, this brings them into the village itself. A guard spots one of the creatures. Sounding the alarm, the villagers rush to hide. It is legitimately tense and the creatures are genuinely creepy. Attempts to appease them fail and they appear once again. It as if they are keeping the villagers within the grounds. As I mentioned earlier, it is legitimately tense but this is only part of The Village’s story.
Drama and Romance
The Village is a melding of a few different genres. The drama aspect takes a front seat. This community seems extremely foreign to modern eyes. They have limited resources but are incredibly tightly knit. Weddings are an event for the whole village to attend and meals bring out the entire community. It is clear that the villagers are struggling with a lack of medication. A young boy has died and it seems apparent that it was avoidable. This is all fairly normal stuff to see in a period drama. We share in the struggles of people who live in a much different manner to us. It is a strong foundation to build a horror movie on. You are already unsettled by the vulnerability of the villagers. All it would take to really tap into this would be a substantial and persistent threat.
Naturally we have a few romance subplots. Lucius is, seemingly, rather desirable due to his quiet, considered nature. Ivy’s sister Kitty, played by Judy Greer, professes her love to him only to be rejected in brutal fashion. This leaves the door open for Ivy to shoot her shot, with her sister’s permission of course. Luckily Kitty has moved on and is getting married imminently. Obviously Ivy’s close friend Noah is sure to be upset. This love triangle becomes pivotal to the plot. The Village plays these scenes almost like an actual romance movie. Fully committed performances from the actors really help the viewer to buy in. I’m not a fan of romance movies but I can appreciate the importance of the relationships to the story itself.
Some Seriously Creepy Creatures
These two major elements contrast starkly to the horror aspect. While never being explicitly violent, the threat of the monsters is ever looming. The tension this builds is incredible. We don’t see them particularly often but, when we do, they look legitimately scary. The costumes and makeup are fantastic and the designs truly unique.
Expertly set up scenes show them skulking around the village menacingly. We don’t know what they are or what they want. We just know that they have been warning the villagers and that is what makes them terrifying. One shot in particular will have you on the edge of your seat. The blind Ivy reaches out into the fog, hoping to feel Lucius’s hand. In the background, one of the creatures approaches. It is seriously effective stuff and a shot any horror director would be proud of. I’d put a few of these parts up against some of the the best horror movies as far as tension goes.
The Village is a who’s who of early 2000’s Hollywood. We have a tremendous older cast. Sigourney Weaver, the late William Hurt, Celia Weston and Brendan Gleeson headline. On the younger side. Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt and Jesse Eisenberg star among others. It’s obvious that people were lining up to work with Shyamalan. The exceptional cast are fantastic throughout. There aren’t any weak performances but there are some that stand out.
Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent. She has an admirable ability to display both strength and emotion. Playing a blind character can’t be easy but she excels at conveying the vulnerability of Ivy. Joaquin Phoenix shows why he was such an in demand talent at the time. Always believable and not afraid to deliver a quiet and nuanced performance. He fits the role perfectly. William Hurt, despite being a bit of a bastard in life by all accounts, is compassionate and warm as Ivy’s father. The stand out performance, however, is Adrien Brody as Noah. Brody had already won an Oscar for The Pianist so I suppose his performance here should come as no surprise. His turn as the developmentally disabled Noah is fantastic and utterly convincing. It is a sympathetic and deep portrayal and impossible not to buy into.
Cinematography is excellent. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio feels fairly retro which fits the theme nicely. Shots are keenly lit with night time scenes looking particularly nice. The landscape is beautiful and the decision to film the movie in the fall was inspired. Fallen leaves contrast perfectly against the green grass of the village. Period clothing is very authentic.
Scenes like Kitty’s wedding are noteworthy for their coordination and scale. As far as the horror element goes. The design of the creatures, as mentioned above, is excellent. I was very impressed with how creepy they looked the first time I watched the movie. I still think they look scary to this day. The woods look suitably hostile with dead trees, heavy rain and even snow in parts. It works as the perfect allegory for the fear of the unknown that the villagers feel.
An Inconsistent Director
If you are a horror fan, you have likely heard about The Village. It has developed something of a reputation. M. Knight Shyamalan has a knack for putting out movies that feature twist endings. He also has a knack for putting out movies that are absolute crap. Unfortunately, you never really know quite what you are going to get. For a minute there, however, back in the early 2000s, he was the next big thing. Coming off of three huge hits in the form of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs. Fans were hotly anticipating the next release and eagerly awaiting another trademark Shyamalan twist. Then… The Village happened.
Less of a shock and more of a wet fart delivered to the proverbial knee of the entire movie going community. The twist at the end of The Village inspired rage from the viewing public. Shyamalan has never really been looked at in the same way since. Sure, it is somewhat deserved. He has put out some stinkers. It wasn’t until the release of The Visit that fans were ready to forgive Shyamalan. He repaid them with the excellent Split a year later. The collective thriller/horror community was ready to be excited for his movies again.. Then he sat back on said proverbial knee and let out a couple more leaky ones with Glass and Old.
The Worst Twist Ever?
The twist at the end of The Village was seen as a bit of a middle finger to the viewer. Shyamalan takes all of the tension and atmosphere that he had carefully built up. Puts it under his boot and mercilessly crushes it. A sad death for what was, up to this point, an entertaining movie. Roger Ebert described the twist as “a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It was all a dream.”. Unfortunately, he was right. This was a twist so awful that you almost wish you never made it to the end of the movie. The funny thing is, it followed on the heels of another twist. An earlier revelation actually sets up the ending but undermines the plot significantly.
It is rare that a director attempts to go for the double twist. In The Village, however, Shyamalan does. Maybe he was trying to subvert the expectations of people who had seen his previous movies? Perhaps he wanted to prove he could still shock people who were expecting a twist. Either way, it was an ill informed move.
Something becomes clear half way through the movie that immediately deflates the tension. Everything that had been built up to that point suddenly evaporates. Without warning, we are watching a completely different type of film. Sure, the twist gives way to a different type of tension. But many viewers will lose interest instantly at this point. The fact that he attempts to one up this twist once again in the final scenes is a simple case of a director outthinking himself.
When I first watched The Village, the movie had been seriously hyped. I’ll be honest, I was thoroughly enjoying it. I thought it was a genuinely creepy movie with a very engaging plot. By the time the first twist was revealed, however, I had lost much of my interest. As the ending credits rolled, I had decided that The Village was one of my all time most hated movies. Now, I was a lot younger back then and, evidently, more impulsive. Watching the movie a second and third time, I can appreciate it for what it is and I genuinely enjoy it. The twist doesn’t bother me any more and I can see what Shyamalan was going for. The fact remains, however, that this movie will piss people off. The twist is a bad idea and the pay off, for many viewers, will likely not be worth the time investment.
Still A Decent Film
Despite all of my complaining, I still think The Village is a good movie. Watching it a third time for this review, I really enjoyed it. I actually think this is one of those movies that will be looked at more fondly by modern eyes. The way recent horror movies struggle to get into viewer’s heads makes The Village feel somewhat refreshing. I believe people who didn’t live through the hype will be able to appreciate the movie for what it is. Sure, the twist is ridiculous. It really is. If I am being truthful, however, I don’t know how the movie should have ended. The Village is, at its core, a drama movie. It didn’t really owe anyone a horror or thriller payoff. The ending can feel like a bit of an insult but the lead up to it is very effective.
When considering each part of the movie for what it is. The Village is tense, atmospheric, and quite scary. Many horror movies would love to be able to create the sense of tension and dread that this film has. Scenes featuring the creatures are fantastically effective. The build up to their first appearance is even better. The sense of fear in the villagers is palpable. It is excellent scene building and well worth the price of admission. What it becomes is a drama movie with a slight thriller element and a fairly interesting plot. If you can ignore the ending, there is still a lot to like.
Is it a Knockout?
The Village is a bit of a divisive movie. While not strictly a horror, this is a film with some seriously creepy horror elements. Featuring strong drama themes based around a group of people attempting to survive in a 1900's rural village. The malevolent presence in the woods provides an ever present threat to the residents. Excellent acting and gorgeous cinematography offer a strong foundation for what is, for the most part, a very compelling story.
Slow paced, a certain revelation in the middle undermines the plot slightly. Despite this, an impressive second half performance by Bryce Dallas Howard keeps things intriguing. The imposing woods keep the horror alive and some relatively tense scenes follow. An absolutely ludicrous ending twist left many viewers with a bitter taste in their mouths. Misguided and out of place, it will upset a lot of people. If you can get past this, however, The Village is a compelling thriller with enough horror elements to make it well worth a watch for slow burn horror fans.