Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson and Sigourney Weaver
M. Night Shyamalan is known for his twist endings and a perceived decline in quality since the 1990s. When each of his films are released, there is a massive division in opinion with a lot of negative reviews. His new film Old is no exception with massively varied reviews from extremely negative to extremely positive. It’s a good time to look back at his films and see if they are as bad as the critics at the time said.
The Village, which came out in 2004, had a lot to live up to. At that point Shyamalan’s three previous films, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs had all received overly positive reviews. Then The Village arrived and with it a massive part of his audience was disappointed. Roger Ebert at the time gave the film a one star review, calling it a ‘massive miscalculation’ and would go on to add it to his most hated films list. More recently The Village has been re-evaluated in a more positive light. A lot has been said that this film was badly marketed and adding that to the hype of a new Shyamalan film at that time, is why it got the negative response.
The Village is about a small village in a clearing in the middle of the woods. The inhabitants are completely cut off from the towns around it. It’s not explicitly said when the story takes place, but judging from their clothing and candlelight it’s in the last nineteenth century. The woods that surround the village contain monsters, ‘Those that we do not speak of’. The villagers have a truce with the monsters and neither party crosses the border at the woods. The colour red is also off-limits inside the village, as it attracts the monsters.
Lucius, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), is shy and curious, believing he can cross the woods without being harmed as the monsters won’t see him as a threat. He is in love with Ivy, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), and when Lucius is injured, Ivy must travel through the woods to the nearby town to collect medicine.
Like the best thriller/horror stories, The Village is not about the perceived threat of monsters, but the characters themselves. The characters are so well developed and realised with great and believable performances, that the monsters could be completely removed, and this would still be an engaging and gripping film. The first hour is essentially all set-up with very little happening, and it builds up the story perfectly. The characters feel real and with the amount of time you’ll have to get to know them, you will feel invested in their lives. This could be a period drama and you could quite happily forget about the supernatural element.
The cinematography by Roger Deakins is simply stunning. One of the early shots, shows one of the monsters in the reflection of a stream, the bright red rippling in the water. There is a beauty in the way that red always contracts so vividly against the muted tones of everything else. There are also nice wide shots of the village itself, capture the idyllic nature perfectly, and this contrasts with the dangerous and jagged vision of the woods.
The performances are all great, with everyone bringing gravitas to the very stylised dialogue. It may not be realistic, but it’s delivered with so much believability that the film captures your imagination. The set design and costumes all look amazing and help engage you into the film’s world.
One of the best parts of the film is the score, composed by James Newton Howard, featuring violin player Hilary Hahn. It’s sombre and subtle throughout. The score was nominated for best score at the Oscars that year but lost out to Finding Neverland. It is almost a piece of classical music, that moves through each scene and can be listened to independently of the film and still feel emotional.
The only downside to The Village is when the inevitable Shyamalan twist happens, the film does lose a little steam. When it is revealed, it’s not particularly shocking. You’ll be expecting something, knowing the director’s other work, you’ll be working it out from the opening scene. When it’s confirmed what’s happening, the building tension is dissipated. It’s only a minor distraction, as by that point you will be so invested with the characters that you’ll still be engaged until the final moment.
The Village has been judged harshly since it’s 2004 release. It’s time that this film is given the credit it deserves. The performances, cinematography and plot are all excellent. This is a gripping and emotional period drama and without going into spoiler territory too much, the themes that the later half of the film presents are thought provoking and shown in an interesting manor. Shyamalan has consistently written and directed fantastic films and The Village is not an exception to this.