Full disclosure: I love The Village. I think it’s the finest of Shyamalan’s pictures. It’s his most cinematic and elegant work as both a filmmaker and storyteller. It is a superb film.
There is one flaw that truly bothers me. By showing an 1890 date on a gravestone at the beginning, you’re lying to the audience. He shouldn’t do that. Especially since the rest of the movie is 100% honest, right down to the way the characters are conceived and portrayed.
Much was made about how “badly written” the movie is. How stilted the performances are… Sigourney Weaver’s line: “What is your meaning?” drew much criticism. People didn’t talk like that! It’s all so wooden! Etc. These people missed the point. Of course it’s wooden and slightly awkward because these people are acting. That’s the whole idea of the picture. They’ve constructed an artificial world in which to live and choose to play their parts accordingly. But, if you watch the movie again, you’ll notice that the young people are a lot more natural. Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix give richly nuanced and completely genuine performances. It never feels artificial. At least not to me.
Many were disappointed also that the monsters turned out to not be real. Okay, fine. But have you considered what a truly stupid motion picture this may have been if the monsters were actually real? How could you really buy into a fable about a secluded village in the middle of the woods, surrounded by giant creatures that dress in red cloaks and terrorize the villagers. It would be a mythical little movie I suppose. But I find that the idea of a group of deeply damaged individuals who choose to live a sheltered life, who create this fable as a way to keep their naive children in line – that hits a much more eerie and chilling note. It’s why the film’s final revelation is actually quite upsetting. You realize that these “elders” are actually some very disturbed and sad individuals. They have not learned from their pain. And you can only hope that their future generations are able to see through that.
People love to complain about Shyamalan and his little twists. (That sounded worse than I expected it to sound, but I kept it just the same). But in this particular movie, the “twists” (because there is more than one) are expertly handled and each serves to really deepen the narrative. The entire thing is a big misdirection – handled as swiftly as Sigfried does Roy. Only with less hemorrhoid dodging.
As an audience, we are introduced to a winning and sympathetic protagonist in Joaquin Phoenix. We are presented with what seems to be a romantic adventure thriller where this young man will eventually venture into the forbidden woods for the good of his home and to protect the one he loves. There is a stunningly suspenseful sequence in which the “monsters” attack the village, followed by a quaint scene of victorian romance. Both are beautifully staged, effective sequences for propelling the story along and establishing a mood and a tone for the entire piece.
And then, Phoenix is “killed” in a genuinely surprising and terrible scene. The way that stabbing sequence is staged is a master class in visual storytelling and the effect it has on the rest of the film is undeniable. It is not unlike what Hitchcock did in Psycho. Where we believed we were watching a “typical Hitchcock potboiler” for the first half hour or so, and then the protagonist is shockingly removed from the narrative, so now we realize we’re watching something else entirely. Shyamalan doesn’t just rip Hitch off beat-for-beat like De Palma did with Dressed to Kill. But, rather, he uses a similar storytelling technique in a completely original fashion. With that, he pulls a brilliant feat of complete misdirection.
You don’t know what to expect from the rest of the film. And then, Shyamalan proceeds to use the rest of the story to reveal the shocking truth behind the nature of these characters – and how they come so close to unraveling because the violence they tried so desperately to shelter themselves from has inevitably come back to haunt their lives.
You can’t escape basic human nature. Brendan Gleeson understands that fully when he says, in resignation, “If it ends, it ends.” Meanwhile, the elders have turned to the only one that can help them maintain their fiction: A heroine who is the physical manifestation of their naive world view.
Fuck me sideways, I get chills just talking about it.
And when you’re done observing the intricate way that Shyamalan tells his story, you can focus on the technicalities. Because this is his most cinematic work. It has sumptuous cinematography by Roger Deakins, terrific attention to period detail and the best musical score of James Newton Howard’s entire career so far… A rich tapestry of sounds that is very reminiscent of the work of Elmer Bernstein, in particular I’m thinking of the superb score for An American Werewolf in London. Hilary Hahn’s violin work adds yet another level of texture. This is just great stuff.
And I love that bit at the end involving Adrien Brody’s character. You don’t see it coming and it’s a nice button for the film.
In the end, the final twist that so many people hated is really just the final puzzle piece for understanding these poor people. It wasn’t supposed to be: “Oh! You mean it was OUR TIME all along???” It should be: “Holy shit! These guys are really fucked up.” At least, that’s how it was for me. I had that image of the snapshot of the “elders” standing outside their support group center. Damaged people – the only thing left for them to do is live a lie.
But enough gushing. Most of you hated this movie, I know.
Thing is, I don’t really care.