A review of “The Village” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: PG-13 for bloody images

Run Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

 

 

I was hard-pressed to understand the positive buzz surrounding director M. Night Shyamalan.  The man has made three films, only one of which (The Sixth Sense) was a truly accomplished work. 

Is Shyamalan worthy of such high praise? Judging by The Village, oh my yes.  This period mystery is so fraught with tension and emotion, not to mention the year’s most astonishing twist, that I was shaken to my core.

Good news: Shyamalan has sloughed off his penchant for “telegraphing” a story, for hammering home the obvious in lieu of a fresh ambiguity and subtlety.

The Village is set in a pristine and isolated village circa late 19th century, where life is unencumbered by modern conveniences or crime.  Leadership stands in the form of a group of elders, the senior members of the community who govern with a firm but fair hand.

There’s a black cloud hanging over this antiquated paradise, in the form of “those we don’t speak of”.  These dark creatures rule the night by stalking the forest that lies at the edge of picturesque Covington Woods. They don’t breach the borders unless provoked.

When small livestock is snatched from a village farm and found skinned alive, a palpable fear settles over Covington.  Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) asks that he be allowed to leave the village and cross through the hazardous woods in search of medicine and supplies from the towns beyond.  The elders refuse his request.

A love story blossoms while the village falls prey to its fear.  Lucius and the saucy and blind Ivy Walker (Ron Howard’s luminous daughter Bryce) forge a bond so true it aches. Their relationship results in a treacherous love triangle and the ultimate sacrifice when Lucius is injured and Ivy must venture beyond in order to save his life.

Shyamalan has created an intimate atmosphere of trust, hope, and intrinsic togetherness.  From this unnatural fellowship springs a powerful plot so hush-hush that the actors’ agents weren’t allowed to look at the script (think aforementioned twist). 

Howard is a revelation, natural and affecting and stealing the movie right out from under the noses of veterans William Hurt (as her father Edward), Sigourney Weaver (Lucius’ mom), Cherry Jones, Brendan Gleeson, and Adrien Brody as village loon Noah Percy.

Imagination is an influential tool, used to champion advantage by Shyamalan (as writer and director) and his formidable cast.  The narrative’s relevance to contemporary fears is significant and unforgettable.