The Village (2004) Director: M. Night Shyamalan
The Village is the last of M. Night Shyamalan’s early films before his career took a turn for the worse. Upon its initial release, it was not a popular film per se, and some have suggested The Village was the reason for Shyamalan’s declining career from the once admired Hitchcock-esque writer/director/producer of suspenseful films with characteristic twists (for example one of the more prominent haters of The Village was Roger Ebert). I cannot agree with these hyperbolic criticisms. In truth, The Village is a beautifully shot film with a compelling story and an incredible score, but it does have some notable plot-holes and is certainly not Shyamalan’s best film. Nevertheless, The Village is the last of his memorable films before a long string of flops (i.e. Lady In The Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), After Earth (2013)…)
In The Village, we encounter a rural town nestled amidst the forests of Pennsylvania. Is the setting in the 19th century? Are they Amish? We are given very little context. The villagers live in fear of “those we do not speak of” –creatures rumored to dwell in the surrounding woods. The villagers keep watch round the clock along the edge of the forest. Apparently, there are also towns miles away through the woods but they are filled with wicked people. We are introduced to a variety of complex characters: Ivy Elizabeth Walker (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, eldest daughter of Ron Howard) Ivy is the blind daughter of the village leader Edward Walker (played by William Hurt). Ivy is on love with a quiet and austere tradesman named Lucius Hunt (played by Joaquin Phoenix). Several other brilliant actors appear in the film, including Adrien Brody who delivers a remarkable performance as Noah Percy, a mentally-challenged young man who stabs Lucius out of jealousy; and his mother is played by Sigourney Weaver; Brendan Gleeson; Cherry Jones; Judy Greer; and a young Jesse Eisenberg. Actually, the entire cast was put through a rudimentary 19th century boot camp, and during the training Joaquin Phoenix whittled a walking stick for Bryce Dallas Howard with an engraving of her character’s name: “Ivy.”
Lucius Hunt and Ivy Walker share their love for one another and they agree to get married, however Noah Percy, a mentally challenged member of the village, stabs Lucius out of jealousy. Lucius lies wounded on his deathbed while the village leaders discuss what to do. In order to save Lucius, Ivy offers to travel through the dangerous woods to get medicine from the towns. En route, she gets attacked by a monster wearing a red cape (again, Shyamalan uses the color red to signify danger, as in The Sixth Sense). However, the revelation of the twist unfolds in a flashback. Ivy’s father explains to her that the monsters are all a fabrication and the time period is actually present-day. The founders of the ‘the village’ (also known as ‘Covington’) were once members of modern society but had various reasons for choosing to leave and live a simpler life. They all met at a grief counseling clinic in Philadelphia. In order to keep up the ruse of their remote village they occasionally don costumes of the monsters in order to prevent members of the community from venturing too far into the woods. En route to the towns, Ivy is trailed by a monster who is killed when he falls into a pit. The monster is later revealed to be Noah in costume.
When Ivy reaches the edge of the forest, it comes to light that the village actually sits in the middle of a vast forest preserve purchased with the Edwards family fortune. The family also secured a no-fly zone over the preserve (thus answering a pressing question with the plot twist). Ivy meets a park ranger and hands him a handwritten list of requested medicine. He discreetly picks it up from the ranger station while communicating with his boss (played by M. Night Shyamalan). Ivy returns to the village with the necessary medication for Lucius.
No review would be complete without acknowledging James Newton Howard who delivers another absolutely brilliant score in The Village. The score was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award.