A ‘Village’ with interesting secretsTo viewers of a certain age, the movies made by M. Night Shyamalan are reminiscent of nothing so much as the early-1960s American TV show “The Twilight Zone.” The trademark of that nifty sci-fi/mystery program ― which, let me rush to add, I am only old enough to have seen in reruns ― was the last-minute plot twist that turned everything upside-down. It didn’t always work, but when it did, it could turn your spine to water. (Millions still shiver at the memory of the line “It’s a cookbook!” Ask a middle-aged American to explain.)
The old-fashioned pleasure of the surprise ending isn’t something Hollywood filmmakers traffic in much these days, so it’s hard to fault Shyalaman for putting one in just about every movie he makes. Granted, this leads to the quandary of the anticipated surprise. Anyone who saw Shyamalan’s best-known film, “The Sixth Sense,” and its worthy follow-ups, “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” will go into his new one, “The Village,” expecting not much to necessarily be as it seems. But that was just as true whenever we turned on “The Twilight Zone,” and we had a good time anyway.
“The Village” is set in a vaguely spooky, pre-modern New England village; mid-19th century would be my guess. It’s a tiny, isolated place that has the feel of a community founded by a religious sect; there are references to a choice having been made in settling there, and to a heavy price that the people have had to pay for it. There is a council of elders whose authority is never questioned, the place is almost ruthlessly well-kept, and there is some very weird behavior. A couple of girls, for instance, merrily sweeping the dust off a front porch, nearly panic at the sight of a flower; they pull it up and bury it, and all seems well again. But despite the cult-like feel of this place, religion never seems to come up.
Before long, we have been given an idea of what the nature of these people’s “choice” has been. It seems that the woods surrounding the village are populated by mysterious, flesh-eating creatures ― monsters with which the village has a longstanding truce. If the villagers don’t go into the woods, the creatures don’t come into the village. One morning, the village wakes to the bloody discovery that the truce has been broken.
Shyamalan, who both writes and directs (and produces) his films, might be dismissable as a one-note purveyor of shock endings if his movies weren’t so intimate, atmospheric and emotionally true. People didn’t love “The Sixth Sense” because the shock ending was so inventive; the ending worked because everything up to that point had drawn people in. “The Village” isn’t the total success that film was; for one thing, although it might be a matter of me being slow on the uptake, I don’t think the story adheres to logic at absolutely every turn. But it’s an enjoyable little puzzle. And, as in Shyamalan’s other films, it’s the characters ― played, incidentally, by such worthies as Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and a fine actress I’ve never seen before named Bryce Dallas Howard ― who haunt you well after you’re done appreciating the workmanship.
Thriller / English
by David Moll