It seems that a small remote, isolated 19th century village enjoys an idyllic lifestyle, untainted by the stresses and demands of the outside world. But life is not so stress-free for the younger generation, who have yet to accept the daily fear that keeps the village isolated: demons in the woods that surround the village. A truce of sorts exists, a boundary is in force, guarded at night. Still there are incursions, and fear is about. Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) is determined to see outside, into 'the towns', but the leading elder (William Hurt) won't let him. It's Walker's blind daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) who ends up making that trip, with devastating results.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Leafless tree-bound, misty and moody 19th century village, isolated from the world, its boundaries marked by torches at night, totally closed off and held captive by the fear of strange demons that howl in the woods surrounding it. Sometimes, one will venture into the village at night, scaring everyone indoors and downstairs to their cellars, while they paint a scary red stripe on selected doors. (They seem to favour a wide brush.)
Red of course is the bad colour. Mustard is the safe colour. The elders run the place, rituals abound, life is simple but some folks live in fear. A life lived in fear is a life half lived, as Strictly Ballroom made clear. This seems at odds with what the film reveals later on. But I am jumping ahead.
They seem to have abundant food of all kinds, judging by the great, hearty meals they have at long trestle tables, but all I could see growing there was parsley and cabbages.
Then there are the oddly discordant phrases sprinkled through the rather formal, stilted English that suggests the period. Phrases like ‘strike a deal’ and ‘odd choice, right?’ Are they deliberate? I don’t think so.
M. Night Shyamalan keeps the story vague enough to work up to his plot twist, and while I won’t reveal it here, I will say that I don’t think the payoff is worth it. The strange thing is, Shyamalan is a wonderful, creative film craftsman. His sense of image making makes for powerful visuals. I don’t much like his use of sound, though, which he uses like a sledgehammer to score cheap thrills. In a film like this, where the characters hear crucial sounds, it is essential that we should be able to differentiate between what is source sound and what the filmmakers have added in post production. When they blend into meaningless fright cues, we are thrown into limbo.
Trickery of filmmaking should be restricted to truth in storytelling. That sounds like an oxymoron; what I mean is the cinematic tools should be used with great care to provide us with additional sensual information, not to trick our intellect. There are too many questions remaining and much unfinished business, making it all an unsatisfactory experience.
His high profile cast brings credibility and gravitas to the flimsy screenplay, whose conceptual basis is shaky and a bit of a cliché.
M. Night Shyamalan’s film directing career took off with a bang with The Sixth Sense, but is now in danger of going out with a whimper. The Village is like his career: it starts off all edgy and engaging, only to fizzle out.
Review by Louise Keller:
M. Night Shyamalan has the knack for mood and suspense, but in his fourth film, The Village, the emphasis rests heavily on the surprise reveal ending. And more’s the pity. The journey is at times intriguing and the characters beg for our acquaintance, but the film’s twist (whether or not you see it coming) feels shallow. I felt cheated, rather than satisfied, with the lyrics of Peggy Lee’s haunting ballad ‘Is That All There Is?’ repeating in my head.
Since the release of Shyamalan’s masterwork The Sixth Sense, his follow-up projects of Unbreakable and Signs have disappointed. And as much as I would have otherwise, The Village is the most disappointing of all.
The film starts well with ominous images of gloomy skies, barren trees and James Newton Howard’s edgy score. The music has as many shades as the ripples in the stream, and Roger Deakin’s cinematography, with its beautiful lighting, is superb. Slowly, we get a sense of the village, the way of life and the close-knit villagers who rely on each other totally. It is apparent that there are closely guarded secrets that the village elders are privy to, but there is much that is never discussed. Even the monsters they fear, who terrorise the whole village and restrict them from venturing beyond the forest are not called by name, but referred to as ‘those we do not speak of’.
Central to the plot is Bryce Dallas Howard’s blind love-struck Ivy, whose love for Joaquin Phoenix’s man of few words, Lucius, is the driving force. Ron Howard’s daughter, reminiscent at times of a young Mia Farrow with her gamin features and sandy complexion, portrays both vulnerability and quiet courage. Ivy may be physically blind, but is, in fact, the only one who can see. Love is the driver, and the scene between Ivy and Lucius as they sit on the edge of the wooden boards of the porch after sundown, when their feelings for each other are revealed, is charming. As they kiss, the camera pans to the left and rests on the empty rocking chair. Adrien Brody’s dim-witted Noah is a tragic presence, and much store is given to the unexpressed feelings between John Hurt’s enigmatic elder and Sigourney Weaver’s lonely widow.
As in The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan uses colours (red and yellow) to signal the evil threat and safety, and we are never sure what lies in store, as we stumble into the unknown with Ivy through the pitfalls of the muddy forest. But it soon becomes clear that the plot is equally muddy, with contrived explanations and unresolved issues. What happens in the forest (and in the sixth reel) is as unbelievable as the red berries that suddenly appear as if by magic. Shyamalan continues to make an on-screen appearance as his customary ritual, but this time, it is cleverly kept to a minimum; we only see his features reflected in a glass cabinet during the film’s final scenes.
Whether or not you can believe that a blind girl could find her way alone through a maze of bushland is a point to ponder. The revelations come one after another in the last half an hour, and as the truth sinks in, so does our expectation. I felt as flat as a pancake made with too much flour. So much relies on the impact of the ending. I found myself wondering whether I really cared?
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VILLAGE, THE (M)
CAST: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson
PRODUCER: M. Night Shyamalan, Scott Rudin, Sam Mercer
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
SCRIPT: M. Night Shyamalan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
EDITOR: Christopher Tellefsen
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Tom Foden
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 2, 2004
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