At its best, The Village is a psychological thriller dressed up a folktale. At its worst, it’s a morality play taking a not-so-subtle jab at the paranoid state of the world today.
A cemetery headstone reveals the year as 1897 in “the village,” a small provincial town where everyone shares and money isn’t a necessity. Nestled in their small valley, the villagers avoid the surrounding woods for fear of the creatures living there; the border is clearly marked, and a watchman is set to sound the alarm whenever Those We Do Not Speak Of are spotted crossing it. When the uneasy truce between the villagers and the creatures appears to be breaking, innocent lives may have to be paid to the keep the village’s secrets or else risk losing their way of life forever.
The Village works very hard to establish itself as a real, working community full of plausible inhabitants all connected with one another, all the while introducing fantastic elements that tease but don?t overwhelm. Then comes the moment (as in every M. Night Shyamalan film) where the audience must make a decision: you either buy it or you don’t. The story becomes enchanting if you choose to suspend disbelief, but choose otherwise and you’ll spend the rest of the film wondering what else you could have done with your admission price. Of course, the characters in the story always choose to believe, and that’s the point of the story.
The movie isn’t a horror film but does contain the seeds of horror. The story contains secrets but is also a story about keeping secrets and their consequences. For the first time in his career, writer/director Shyamalan expands beyond a small group of characters and populates an entire town with his imagination while still watching it all through the eyes of a child. The results are skewed because the final cut smartly avoids specific questions that shatter the illusions of the film’s premise, leaving it all in what the viewer chooses to accept. Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver (along with newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard) all lend their considerable talents to the cast, but the story is the star in a Shyamalan film.
Shyamalan has already established a formula for his personal style of filmmaking and is often credited for re-popularizing the “twist ending.” He makes no apology for this tactic because you’re either with him or against him, so it’s no wonder that his fans are so protective while his detractors quickly dismiss him. In either case, there?s no denying that people have an innate connection to myth, and Shyamalan’s storytelling is always an attempt to connect with an inner child that wants to believe in a lie both plausible and fantastic. The Village is no exception.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)