The Village Review

Worldbuilding, as author P.D. James would find with her novel, The Children of Men, is not easy. Difficult it may be to sidestep the usual comparisons to the worlds that would seem similar to a unique idea, The Village does quite well in side-stepping the potential collations and references. It is no surprise that M. Night Shyamalan manages this with ease. Although his Victorian-era-like feature relies on the drab clothing and community spirit of a small village, it is not until the howls and wonders of the fields beyond the hamlet are focused in on that any turn for originality is presented. Lucky for audiences, that is immediate. The low-hanging camera focuses on an elated and embarrassed Adrien Brody, clapping, cheering and soon falling quiet when nobody joins in with his love for the ominous. 

That much sets up The Village rather well. A film that is certainly not the first of its genre to have dark twists and clunky storytelling opportunities, it is perhaps the most remarkable. Apostle, the Netflix original, feels somewhat similar to the tonal choices made in the final third. The first hour features extensive periods of Shyamalan showing off his knack for cinematography, followed by an expulsion of detail and plot. Keen to keep his audience in suspense, Shyamalan keeps The Village tense with gory discoveries, shock value moments that do not strike fear at the audience but into them and more than enough big-name actors to keep a scene alive with fright and interest. William Hurt is the best of all as Chief Elder Edward Walker.  

Isolated away from evil out of genuine fear, it is not until Shyamalan introduces the underlining metaphors and twists that The Village loses its way. Until then, though, there is a very strong feature carved out by excellent work from Brendan Gleeson and Judy Greer. That worldbuilding struggle so many artists have failed to create is far too easy for Shyamalan. He can create terror in the unique village terminology founded within with such excellence and simplicity. Joaquin Phoenix and Greer share some magnificent scenes that pace the horrors of the outside very nicely. But it is not the unknown horrors of the woods that take precedence, naturally, The Village uses the infighting and one-man rebellions that come and go to bolster its animosity and tension. The red herring that lies in the forest is just that, until that inevitably shaky Shyamalan twist turns up. 

To his credit, Shyamalan handles the twist well. His name is now synonymous with the sort of tension that derided his future works but made him a star with The Sixth Sense. A necessity to chase that persona as the man that can throw in a twist and manage its justifications became a natural element of Shyamalan’s works. For The Village, that makes for an intrepid effort. It pays off with great clarity and a nice knife in the side of characters who, unknown to the audience, are far worse than they first appear. It is that trust Shyamalan has in his performers to get him to that stage, and the performers in Shyamalan to guide them through a story that, on the surface, seems straightforward. No such luck for The Village, which is excelled and kneecapped by its twist all at the same time.  

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