The Village is the name of the enigmatic and fairly twisted 'community' which Number 6 - The Prisoner - wakes up to find himself ensconced in in the beginning of the first episode of the series. The Village is hidden and isolated; there are no names, just numbers; everything is run by Number 2. For more information, see The Prisoner.

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 (Update: Haddix and her publisher are suing Shyamalan and his studio for copyright infringement). 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 Lucy-S 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)

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

To talk about a Night movie is to talk about its twist so, without further ado, I will spoil the twist.

The basic premise of the movie is that, despite appearing to take place at the end of the 19th century in a small village somewhere in the middle of the woods, it in fact takes place in the present. The elders of the village decided to move away from a world filled with violence and so create their own society where such things cannot happen.

As a result, the elders try to keep everyone inside the village by dressing up as monsters that live in the woods and, occasionally, come into the village when others cross the barrier. They create an unknown fear to keep people in check. It's an alright premise but, as my father said, it was a Twilight Zone episode and could have been done in half an hour -- and probably should have been.

Part of Night's dilemma, and part of his problem in making successful movies after The Sixth Sense, is that it is extremely rare for a viewer to come to the movie as a work in and of itself. Instead it is bound up in his reputation and in his previous movies. This works against him most profoundly in this piece.

Everyone expects a twist. Not only that, this is Shyamalan's first work outside of the modern era. That, alone, combined with the isolationism of the village, can give away the twist before the viewer even watches the movie. As a result, he has to work for the entire movie to throw people off and runs into some real plot holes in doing it. At the very beginning of the movie, a child is buried in a grave marked with 1890's dates on it. But why would they have decided to advance the date backwards at all if the people they taught had no knowledge of things before? I suppose to correspond with books they had in their possession but -- it is a lie to the audience, instead of a piece of misdirection. Likewise, all of the characters talk with 18th century language and accents which is an unnecessery complication that stems not from the situation of the plot and characters, but instead from a desire to misdirect the audience. No convincing motivation is made for the accents at all. There are other holes as well, but I prefer not to dwell on this -- as it is not the largest problem with the movie and, in truth, if this were the only problem it might still be an alright film when taken out of its cultural context.

However, it is not. The scriptwriting is, to be generous, poor. The dialogue is wooden and the emotional moments of the film, while successful, are stimulus-response machines set up to create a specific reaction. To the movie's credit, they succeed: the scary parts are indeed scary. You laugh when you're supposed to and likewise cry when Night decides you'll cry. The problem is that these moments stick out like a sore thumb, moments of critically engineered emotional reaction in a movie that is, really, more of a cerebral endeavor. Between these moments there is no character development to speak of nor any other work except that done to simultaneously foreshadow and misdirect the final revelation.

The characters are almost uniformly flat. The only characters with any sort of depth are the three main characters: the fool, the hero, and the blind visionary. The fool, of course, is the only one who knows the truth of what is happening and ends up hurting the hero badly because of his own lack of a sense of right and wrong. The blind girl can see certain people, and actually looks at them and other places breaking the sense that she is blind fairly thoroughly, and she is the one who ultimately discovers the secret of the village and brings it back. And the hero is pure of heart and purpose and, because of his nobility, sends the false world around him into a tailspin that results in his being wounded. All three of these characters are the oldest of archetypes -- the first three Major Arcana of the Tarot, in fact, work well to represent each respectively -- and the only relation among them is a love triangle of sorts that is just not explored enough for my taste in the story, but is rather alluded to in the past and thus taken largely for granted.

If the scriptwork weren't bad enough, the camerawork keeps the watcher from even attempting to be immersed in the world by, ironically, attempting to immerse them in the world. The camera becomes intensely obtrusive through the movie, becoming worse and worse.

The essential problematic technique is that the camera is almost always kept close in the ranks of the actors and rarely cuts, making it extremely obtrusive: instead of cutting between characters in a dialogue, the camera often pans, and sometimes even walks -- the footsteps of the cameraman sometimes audible, I'm sure I'm making it seem as if the audience is in the film, but far too obtrusive. The closeness to actors and the lack of cuts ends up with people's heads being cut off, people looking at the camera (sometimes 'accidentally', sometimes on purpose) and, at least in me, a general confusion about what the hell is going on as I pay more attention to the movements of the camera than to what is inside the frame.

When the camera is not at/just below eye level, it is viewing from some unnatural angle -- looking down on two conversants who are very close to the camera from ten feet up, viewing a dark corner that is being inspected by two cast members, and so on.

Of course, the music was good and, beyond the obtrusive camera, the visuals were really quite stunning. In the end, however, this is a B movie made by A talent. It occurs to me that, ten years from now, I could see this movie while slipping through the cable channels, and sit down and watch it at about three in the morning because nothing else is on. I'd be interested in it, I might get hooked for a while, but in the end I will feel that I've wasted my life because I could have been watching something else.

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