The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
MOVIE REVIEW
Shyamalan's 'Village' has few thrills, absurd plot twists

August 5, 2004
By Franklin Harris

Seemingly desperate to deliver the twist ending he thinks his audience expects of him, M. Night Shyamalan has produced a film so absurd that it fails on every level. As a thriller, "The Village" is almost totally devoid of thrills. As social commentary, it is trite and misguided.

Joaquin Phoenix stars in M. Night Shyamalan's ''The Village.''
Copyright © Touchstone Pictures
Joaquin Phoenix stars in M. Night Shyamalan's ''The Village.''
The village of the film's title is Covington. We don't know exactly where Covington is, but its residents look, dress and speak like the Pennsylvania Dutch, or an outsider's caricature of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Plus, all of Shyamalan's other films are set in Pennsylvania, making the Keystone State a good guess.

Covington is surrounded by a forest, which separates it from the unnamed town that Covington's elders fled years before. We don't know why they left to build their own community far from the outside world, but we do know they won't go back, even if isolation brings hardships for their children.

As "The Village" opens, one elder (Brendan Gleeson) is burying a son. Another (William Hurt) has a daughter (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is blind. But when one of Covington's young men (Joaquin Phoenix) asks permission to go to town for medicines, the village elders refuse him.

They have their reasons. The town may be a bad place, filled with wicked people, but there is something worse between Covington and the town. As Hurt's character explains, the forest is home to dangerous creatures whom the villagers call Those We Do Not Speak Of.

With a name that awkward, maybe it is better not to speak of them.

The villagers and the creatures have a truce of sorts. The creatures do not enter Covington, and the villagers stay out of the woods. To enter the woods is to risk angering the creatures, and they have long, sharp claws.

So, life in Covington goes on as it always has until, one day, the creatures enter the village, setting off a series of events that leaves one character near death and sends another on the perilous trek through the woods.

There are two ways to react to "The Village." If you guess the big secret early on, you're likely to be bored during the rest of the film. If you don't figure it out until the end, you'll probably feel cheated. The secret is shocking not because it is unsettling but because it is so ridiculous.

In fact, the movie's whole premise is ridiculous. How do the villagers grow crops without large animals to pull plows? Do they have horses? And if they have horses, why doesn't someone ride one through the woods? Wouldn't that make it easier to avoid Those We Do Not Speak Of? Shyamalan seems to have forgotten than even the Amish go to town from time to time.

Shyamalan also goes out of his way to populate "The Village" with zombies, and I don't mean the creatures. I mean Hurt and Phoenix, both of whom sleepwalk through their roles.

Almost everyone in Covington is unhappy and emotionally repressed. The only exceptions are Howard's character and the village idiot, played by Adrien Brody. (That Shyamalan wrote a part for a "village idiot" is groan inducing in and of itself.)

Covington is such a depressing place that you wonder what its residents gain by staying there.

Even more, you wonder how Shyamalan expects us to sympathize with them.

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