The Village (2004)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adrian Brody, Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt

Directed by: M Night Shyamalan

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Joaquin Phoenix as Lucius Hunt in M Night Shyamalan's The Village

There's an unwritten law that decrees: if you're reviewing M Night Shyamalan films, you don't give away the twist in the plot. Which makes it kinda hard to write about The Village, but what the heck, I'll give it a go. Having said that, the twist (or twists - there are actually two) is so blindingly obvious, it probably wouldn't make much difference if I did tell you. But I'll be nice, and keep it a secret.

The Village in question is an idyllic 19th century Almish style settlement deep in the heart of a wood. On the surface, life in The Village is good: food seems plentiful, the wooden houses are a Shaker dream and women seem to have a fair amount of autonomy to do as they please. Innocence, honesty and comradeship abound: it's Little House on the Prairie without the religion, The Waltons without cars. But there's a problem: the woodland surrounding The Village is haunted by huge demonic monsters with great long claws, quaintly named, in a Harry Potter stylee, 'Those we do not speak of', who prevent the villagers from ever leaving the settlement. The monsters don't come into The Village, and the villagers don't trespass into the woods. Instead they guard their borders with flaming torches and yellow flags (apparently yellow repels the monsters) and do not wear the Bad Colour (red), which attracts them. But now (quiet rumble of spooky music) the uneasy truce has broken: the monsters have breached The Village boundaries and its inhabitants are in danger. As the threats increase, dark secrets begin to make their ugly presence felt: just what are the Elders of The Village keeping from the younger generation.?

Bryce Dallas Howard as Ivy

So far so horror movie. Except that, despite, the nail-biting tension of the trailers, The Village isn't a horror movie at all. Forget The Blair Witch Project (if only) - this is actually more of a love story between dour, brooding villager Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) and blind red-haired beauty Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard - daughter of Ron 'Happy Days' Howard, no less). As trouble stirs the rural idyll of The Village and Lucius is fatally wounded, Ivy must venture into the woods to bring him the medicine he needs from The Towns (big evil places where women are raped and men are shot and the Almighty Dollar is king). But before she goes her father has something he must tell her.

The Village is a beautifully crafted film, with the contrast between the sinister wood and the homely Village and the balance between edge of seat tension and Sunday morning telly sentimentality perfectly maintained. The script is a little laboured (the villagers favour an old fashioned style of speech that occasionally falls flat, coming across as awkward and emotionless) and some of the characters are a bit two-dimensional and wooden (William Hurt in particular sounds as if he's reading from the telephone directory). But the scenes between Lucius and Ivy are really very moving, whilst Adrian Brody's village idiot Noah is far more creepy than the woodland monsters.

As you'd expect, the plot is also extremely enthralling. However, certain elements do set off warning bells. If the woodland is populated by huge spiny monsters, how did the villagers get there in the first place? Why on earth did they decide to settle there? And why, in what appears to be an Almish community, is there no church, no genial reverend and no mention of God at all? And then, of course, you guess the twist.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Strange things are afoot in The Village

Which, it has to be said, doesn't entirely convince, leaving you with lots of niggling unanswered questions you can mull over in the pub afterwards. It's not a shocking denouement like those of The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, utterly unexpected yet fitting perfectly with the preceding action. Nor is it as satisfying as the ending of Signs, when everything that's gone before suddenly makes sense. The extremely clunky cameo appearance by Shyamalan himself to helpfully explain away certain annoying factors really doesn't help either.

Still, The Village is an unusual and interesting film and well worth seeing, if for no other reason than to see if you can guess the twist. If you haven't done so already. Sorry.

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