The UnPopular Opinion: The Village
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
There was a time when the name M. Night Shyamalan brought excitement to movie fans. After THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, and SIGNS, it seemed the filmmaker could do no wrong. It may have been early for his name to be bandied above every film he made in a font almost as large as the movie title, but when you make three very strong features, you have "made it" in Hollywood. But, something happened after those three films and fans began to lose faith in Shyamalan. Now, eleven years after the release of THE VILLAGE, Shyamalan looks to be returning to his roots with the found footage horror film THE VISIT. I decided to revisit THE VILLAGE, the last Shyamalan movie I liked to see if it was still as good as I remembered it. In fact, it is better.
Roger Ebert placed THE VILLAGE on his list of most-hated movies, citing the twist ending as flimsy and unable to support the rest of the film. In retrospect, I was not shocked by the twist and felt it was a bit of a let down compared to Shyamalan's previous endings, but overall, the atmosphere that pervades THE VILLAGE makes the film a success. It works thanks to a great cast including future fan favorites Fran Kranz and Judy Greer alongside Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jesse Eisenberg, William Hurt, Adrien Brody, and Sigourney Weaver. Probably the biggest twist in the movie was that it is not about Joaquin Phoenix, the highlight of Shyamalan's SIGNS, but rather the introduction to Bryce Dallas Howard's adult acting career.
THE VILLAGE is presented as a period film in which we are introduced to an isolated 19th century community led by Edward Walker (William Hurt). We are quickly indoctrinated in the unique rules of this society where the town is surrounded by a forest inhabited by mysterious and murderous creatures with whom the villagers hold a truce. The rules dictate that the villagers do not venture into the woods, but the curious young Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) gets involved in the breaking of that truce. What upset many movie-goers was just how well this setup works and how poorly they received the payoff of the twist ending. If THE VILLAGE had remained set in the 19th century with a different explanation for the creatures, I think fans would have received the movie a lot better. But, as it stands, the twist actually gets better with time.
The atmosphere of THE VILLAGE is solemn and full of dread. It feels remarkably similar to THE SIXTH SENSE in that regard with very little levity but you buy in completely that there is something ominous going on. While the hints of the twist are not laid out as brilliantly as in Shyamalan's debut, it is not the shock value of the truth that makes it work but rather the decision the village elders make to keep telling the lie to their friends and families. THE VILLAGE carries a message about conformity and the strictures of a totalitarian society and the price that must be paid in order to keep that control. William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver brilliantly play two of the elders who maintain this secret. Adrien Brody plays a convincing crazy person and Joaquin Phoenix is good as the film's "hero", but the sudden shift of focus to Bryce Dallas Howard and the need for her to save Lucius gives this film the boost it needs.
THE VILLAGE is designed to keep you on your toes. At one moment, you are rooting for Lucis and Ivy to continue their romance and want him to save the town from their oppressors. The next moment, Ivy has to save Lucius and learns the oppressors are in fact their parents and elders. At one moment, the villagers fear these creatures in the woods and the next we learn the villagers themselves are the monsters. There is also a moment where Walker tells his daughter the creatures are based on "real creatures" he knew about as legend, leaving that door open that maybe there are two different kinds of monsters in the woods. Despite the twist, and maybe because of it, THE VILLAGE can be looked at as a film of layers, none of which fully resolve the mystery and leave the viewer with a tension that there is still something we do not know. That mystery hidden within the twist is ultimately what makes the movie work for me.
It also helps that, from a visual standpoint, M. Night Shyamalan knows how to film a movie. THE VILLAGE is vibrant, whether it be the bright yellows and reds of the hoods the villagers and monsters wear or the flames and lanterns that pepper the 19th century set design, the movie pops with colors that play against the solemn and gray elements of the story. This also compliments James Newton Howard's brilliant musical score which was nominated for an Academy Award and ranks as one of the best film score of the last twenty years. Even if you question the screenplay for THE VILLAGE, you cannot argue with what it accomplishes visually and audibly.
Again, I am not defending what M. Night Shyamalan directed after THE VILLAGE, but I do defend THE VILLAGE as a quality film. In many respects, I like it significantly more than the acclaimed SIGNS. For me, THE VILLAGE was Shyamalan's last great movie before he descended into carbon copies of the twists that helped make him a star. But, don't lump his movies together based on their endings. I ask that you rewatch THE VILLAGE and then watch it again. View it with the twist as a memory and then watch it with the twist fresh in your mind. Both times, I assure you, you will find the film a lot more enjoyable than the first time you saw it. There are few horror films that work on every level, but THE VILLAGE succeeds as a scary movie, a cautionary tale, and one of the best Twilight Zone stories that didn't come from Rod Serling.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...