Movie Review: The Village

reviewed by Gary A. Braunbeck

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is about the people of Covington, an isolated late-1800s era village somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania. The villagers have an uneasy truce between themselves and monstrous creatures who live in the woods surrounding their village. Travel is prohibited; as the movie opens, one of the village’s elders has just lost his only son to a disease that could have been cured had they been able to travel to nearby towns to get medicines.

The plot thickens as the creatures invade the village at night and leave red slashes on doors and mutilated animals. After her beloved is gravely wounded, a blind girl decides she must brave the woods to get medical supplies.

Signs was an allegory about faith; this movie is about fear. The villagers wear the color of caution and cowardice.

The good things about this movie are that it is beautifully photographed and wonderfully acted, and the micro-writing of the script is very good. There are a number of great scenes, but I think the best is between Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) and Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) on a porch.

The problem — and it’s a big one, folks — is that The Village should have never been approached as a horror/suspense movie in the first place. It is not a scary movie because it never should have been a scary movie. Shyamalan has bought into his own PR as the “New Master Of Suspense”. This movie — and bear in mind I’ve liked all his other films — was hamstrung by bad storytelling. As a result, it’s the weakest of the films he’s written and directed so far.

I’ve seen the central idea of The Village done in at least two old Twilight Zone< episodes, and I can’t help but think that a writer like Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont or Richard Matheson would have done The Village right and told it as a sociological drama.

Another film similar to this was done many years ago; it’s a wonderful Alan Bates film entitled King of Hearts. If you enjoyed The Village but left the theater feeling dissatisfied with the story as I did, you might try to find King of Hearts as a rental.

Furthermore, several people have mentioned to me that the plot of The Village is quite similar to a children’s novel entitled Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Haddix’s novel includes not only the basic idea of the village, but the village elders also have black boxes in their homes.

Derivative or not, The Village has a good story at its core — but it took the movie over an hour to finally get around to telling it. The “twist” should have been revealed in the first thirty minutes — as it is, it’s broadcast enough that my wife and I guessed it pretty early on, and I know of at least one person who guessed it from simply watching the trailer. It could have been a really chilling and poignant drama had it been written and directed by someone who wasn’t bent on making a suspense movie with a twist at the end.

And unfortunately although the story looks and sounds great, Shyamalan blew every chance he had to tell this story the way it should have been told.

Discussion (Spoilers Follow)

The movie does have an interesting political subtext, and many viewers (including myself) are interpreting it as a critique of the Bush Administration’s handling of the war on terror: “If you won’t fear the outside world so that we can control you with fear, we will create monsters to frighten you into meek submission.”

Political allegories aside, the story was actually told backwards: this would have been a much more compelling movie had it begun with all of these broken people in the counselling center deciding they’d had enough of society’s violence, and then following them as they took steps to make the life in the village and raise their children to be fearful of the outside world, and ending with the creation of “the monsters.”

There was an outright plot hole in this one, too (aside from the literal plot hole in the woods). Why was the monster suit hidden in the floorboards of the quiet room where Noah would have access to it? The scene before had led us viewers to believe all the suits were in the forbidden shed. And how would Ivy know what the claw of one of the monsters would feel like, since she’s never seen one? Sloppy.

And I found Noah’s character to be a bit aggravating; I’m faulting the script rather than Adrien Brody’s acting, which was fine as usual. Noah giggles at the sounds from the forest at the beginning because he know’s what’s going on — it seems like he’s the embodiment of the director laughing at us because we don’t know what’s going on yet. I gathered that Noah was responsible for all the animal mutilations as well, but it seems impossible he could do so many of the animals later on, and it’s never really clarified. Another plot hole.

This movie’s horror trappings were ultimately unnecessary. The tale was told with the emphasis on the wrong elements.

The lesson: never buy into your own PR, lest you take a good story and purposefully mangle it so that it better suits your “reputation.”

Movie Information

Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 108 minutes
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Score: James Newton Howard
Cinematographer: Roger Deakins (who also shot O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Sid and Nancy)
Cast:

Bryce Dallas Howard: Ivy Walker
Joaquin Phoenix: Lucius Hunt
Adrien Brody: Noah Percy
William Hurt: Edward Walker
Sigourney Weaver: Alice Hunt
Brendan Gleeson: August Nicholson
Cherry Jones: Mrs. Clack


Gary A. Braunbeck is the author of 14 books and over 150 short stories. If you enjoyed this review, check out his book Fear in a Handful of Dust: Horror as a Way of Life.

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