The Village (2004)

the village poster

The problem with most thrillers is that once you’ve watched them one time, there is nothing left to thrill you. Too many of these films spend all of their creative energy trying to give the audience a scare. The best directors of the genre create truly great films, which just happened to give the audience a scare. While M. Night Shyamalan is an excellent craftsman, he tends to be unable to elevate his films into the realms of true cinema. The Village is no exception.

The story centers around a small village that seems to be set in the later part of the 1800s. The Villagers have worked out a complicated deal with strange creatures (“Those We Do Not Speak Of”) lurking in the near woods. Problems arise and the long-held pact begins to break down. This causes there to be a need for one of the villagers to venture through the woods into the larger towns.

The biggest problem with The Village and the last several of Shyamalan’s films is his surprise endings. I read somewhere several years ago that he didn’t want to be pigeonholed into doing the same supernatural-type stories with a twist ending. I wish he had kept to his word. Instead everyone goes into the theatre expecting, waiting on the surprise at the end. This is a distraction taken away from the whole of the film; it is a gimmick that has run thin. A truly surprising ending for the director now would be no surprise at all.

Where Shyamalan excels is his Hitchcockian use of suspense. He understands that some of the best thrills come not from something jumping straight out at the audience, but from what we don’t see. It is a long time in the Village before we see “The Things We Don’t Speak Of” and even then we only catch a glimpse. For Shyamalan understands that our imaginations are more powerful than any piece of costuming or CG effect. There were, in fact, several moments during my first viewing of the film that had my hair standing on end. These were tense, beautifully paced moments.

The film also creates a masterful sense of mood. The color scheme, set design, and costuming are all top-notch. They give the film a true sense of paranoia and suspense. The acting, for the most part, is quite good. This is not surprising considering the cast is made up of the likes of William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, and Adrian Brody amongst others. There are several interweaving human stories set amongst the supernatural tale, some of which are quite moving. Yet it is the supernatural aspect that shines brightest, and ultimately, falls flat upon subsequent viewings. Watching the film a second time, knowing the surprises, I felt a tinge of boredom. The story no longer captivated me as it did the first time. Knowing the truth, there were too many plot points and character actions that seemed false, or self-serving.

It is a film worth a first viewing. Shyalaman is a true talent, and I look forward to his next film. In a sense, The Village is really two stories. One is a suspenseful tale of creatures lurking in the dark, and the other of a quaint village dealing with extraordinary circumstances. I believe the fault lies in the merging of the two. The suspense doesn’t hold up under subsequent viewings. It does not serve the other aspect of its story. Likewise, the more human story is broken apart too much by the mystical aspects

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