6 February 2005 | BrandtSponseller
One of Shyamalan's Best Films
The Village is set in a small, rural community living in a kind of 19th Century self-supporting agrarianism. Woods surround the town, and the villagers maintain a strict perimeter, as there are creatures in the woods with whom they've reached a truce so long as the borders are not breached. Tension mounts as the creatures start breaking their normal pattern, and one of the villagers, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), seeks permission from the town elders to travel through the woods, to the towns and "those we don't speak of", so he can acquire medicine for his fellow villagers.
For anyone seriously interested in the art of film, The Village is worth a viewing just for its cinematography and score. That's not to say that the story isn't good. It's a captivating tale of a very odd small town, complete with a twist, as is characteristic of director M. Night Shyamalan. The twist may not be as shattering here as it was in some of his previous films, such as The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000), but it is still a change that catalyzes an eye-opening recontextualization and reassessment of the previous material, making the film and the final resolution of the story even more poignant. It is also interesting to note the many possible metaphorical readings, ranging from political insularism to religion, or even more literal comparisons to social and geographic segregation (from ethnic enclaves to gated communities).
Shyamalan could be said to have a directorial gimmick, although that might not be the best word because it's usually taken negatively, and I don't mean it to undervalue his approach. He makes genre films in the guise of realist dramas. So far, all of his films since he hit it big with The Sixth Sense have used this interesting device, each in a different genre. The Sixth Sense was a horror/ghost story. Unbreakable was a comic book film. Signs was sci-fi. The Village is fantasy/adventure. It also has some horror elements (as do Unbreakable and Signs).
Part of Shyamalan's genius as a filmmaker is that he can achieve the usual responses associated with those genres using such unusual, relatively mundane and realist material. For example, in The Village, he is able to build up an incredible amount of suspense in relation to two very simple things--flowers of a particular color, and beginning a walk into the woods. A simple walk into the woods is also the beginning of an adventure just as grand as any depiction of a quest for the Holy Grail, say. And the ensuing plot developments, although very ordinary on one level, have a profound, redemptive effect. Many of the most important developments in the climax aren't even directly stated; they're just subtly implied in what we're shown, yet they all work extremely well. While Shyamalan's style may require some adjustments for viewers more accustomed to chaotic, MTV-paced genre films, or on the flipside, for viewers less accustomed to elements of fantasy in their films, it is worth altering your preconceptions about pacing and content.
The cast is excellent. I'm not usually the biggest fan of William Hurt, but I even loved his performance. Joaquin Phoenix and particularly Bryce Dallas Howard are amazing. The film wouldn't have worked without the right person in either actor's roles. Both were perfect choices. There is also a wonderful, very slight surreal quality throughout most of the film shown in the behavior of the villagers towards each other.
James Newton Howard's score may be his best to date in a very long list of credits. The music always provides just the right atmosphere, sense of wonder/mystery, pathos and suspense. Roger Deakins' cinematography is equally brilliant, capturing a slight eeriness, sense of foreboding and comfort all at the same time, and with an ingenious use of colors. Much of the film leans towards rich yellow/orange hues and tints, with strong green accents in the grasses and trees. Whenever red is introduced, it is appropriately intense. The framing of shots and staging of scenes is equally impressive.
I know that this film has had its detractors, but I cannot see why. For my tastes, The Village is yet another masterpiece from a very creative, innovative filmmaker.