The Village

The Village


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

M Night Shyamalan has been cursed by the success of his first two films; everyone now expects him to keep making the same sort of thing, and the critics are unforgiving of his experimental approach, when they don't outright ignore it. The Village is a film with a lot of flaws, but it is, in the end, a brave venture, a character study, not the failed horror story it has been presented as. There's real horror here, but not in the places you might expect; and the so-called 'twist', obvious from the start, was, I believe, never intended to be at the core of the film. The story doesn't rely on it; rather, the story centres on what happens above and beyond it. It is presented as a surprise to the heroine only because, more essentially, she is an innocent.

The notion of an isolated community whose residents keep an uneasy truce with something monstrous in the woods around its borders is not a new one, but it works on the level of a fairytale, and, in this instance, functions as a metaphor for the monstrous things lurking in the human soul. Despite his interest in the supernatural, Shyamalan is astute enough to realise the greater horror inherent in the death of a seven-year-old boy from an untreated disease, and in a man watching his daughter go blind for want of medicines.

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The Village is a story about innocence, and about the evil which can occur because of it. Its only truly innocent character is Noah, a young man whose actions are shaped by his learning disabilities but who is, underneath it, more aware than any of the others. The horror of Noah's experiences lies at the emotional core of the film, despite its apparent focus on other characters and on more acceptable manifestations of love and courage.

Whilst Shyamalan is much vaunted as a creator of creepy films, his greater talent, his ability to direct actors, is generally overlooked. Here he extracts remarkable performances from every member of his cast, but he is most impressive in his direction of disabled characters. Bryce Dallas Howard is superb as the blind heroine Ivy; it's really refreshing to see a blind woman portrayed as competent without this being put at the centre of the story, as if it were an unnatural thing. Every tiny movement of Howard's, from her eyes to her toes, is perfectly judged, absolutely natural, but it is never allowed to dominate her character.

As the learning disabled Noah, Adrien Brody deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Again, every little movement works, fitting perfectly with the nature of his disability and simultaneously conveying a lot of important story information without ever being obvious about it. This is a rich and complex character whose self-awareness and resentment of his condition are subtly evoked, and The Village would be well worth watching for this performance alone.

The greatest problem with this film is that it's too long. What would have been much more effective as a 45-minute story has been stretched into something long enough to please the distributors at considerable cost. There's too much padding, detracting from the tension, and certain events are overexplained. Besides this, some of the dialogue is badly put together. There are reasons for its clunkiness at the start, and this is quite cleverly handled, but not all the actors are up to it, with William Hurt, in particular, wooden and awkward. This is relieved somewhat by Shyamalan's handling of comedy moments, cruel yet sensitive, giving us the strong awareness of character priorities which we need to understand the emotional journeys taking place during the rest of the film.

From a technical point of view, this film is marvellous. Costume design and photography recalls the best of Roger Corman's work, but is never inappropriately crude. Vivid lighting techniques contribute a great deal to mood and to the story's examination of different kinds of madness.

If you're looking for a simple horror movie, The Village will probably disappoint. The focus here is on the psychological, and, despite a succession of scary moments, the real horror exists at a moral level. This is an intelligent, literary tale disguised as a popcorn movie, and one can only hope that Shyamalan gets away with it, so that he might produce more work of this quality in future.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007
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The secrets and passions of an isolated community, trapped by the fear of mythical beasts.
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Read more The Village reviews:

Josh Morrall *****
Angus Wolfe Murray ****
David Haviland **

Director: M Night Shyamalan

Writer: M Night Shyamalan

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, John Christopher Jones, Frank Collison

Year: 2004

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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