The story is set in an isolated, seemingly 19th century American village. The small village is surrounded by woods that form a kind of boundary that no one seems willing to cross. Legend has it that there are evil creatures, referred to as "Those Who Don't Speak Of" who lurk just beyond the border. The elders suggest that some sort of deal has been struck with these creatures to keep them out of the village. But the villagers are not overly concerned with these creatures so long as everyone stays on their side of the border. Within the village, people seem friendly, work well together and share a close sense of community. Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), however, starts to express a desire to leave the village to visit the outside world, where he hears that that have miraculous drugs that could help people in the village. But then a tragedy strikes, and the truce between the village and the creatures seems fragile. The peaceful community is disrupted by a shocking act of violence, and one member-a young blind girl named Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard)-may have to leave the confines of the village and venture through the woods to the city outside.
This is the premise of M. Night Shyamalan's latest film, and like all his other films, it contains a twist. The problem here is that the twist comes very late in the film and is too easy to predict (anyone who's seen a few Twilight Zone episodes should be able to figure it out). And there really isn't much & beyond that plot turn to stir interest but because the twist arrives so late it doesn't allow the film or the audience to make much use of the new information in a meaningful way. Structurally and thematically, the film would have been better if the twist occurred earlier so that the revelation could be dealt with more fully and explored as part of the thematic discussion rather than as just a gimmick.
The film is also hurt by the fact that Shyamalan has such a reputation for this kind of storytelling that everyone comes in looking for the twist. It is almost like the story is simply the straight line set up for the punchline. Shyamalan, who has a distinct flair for moody images and creating unease, is in danger of becoming a one-trick pony whose work relies too much on gimmicks. Of all his films to date, Signs , surprisingly, holds up as the best because the plot contrivances are only a part of the story and are cleverly worked in to his tale of a man in search of his faith. In The Village , everything from teh very beginning feels contrived and staged for our benefit. It's like all the characters are in on a gag to fool the audience.
But Shyamalan, who also wrote the script, deserves credit for continuing to explore issues of faith and belief (in The Village love becomes an aspect of a larger faith) within what are essentially pop entertainment films. The Village does raise questions about the kind of world we create for ourselves and the kind of world we would like to escape from. The elders, played by such noteworthy types as William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson and Cherry Jones, are obviously trying to protect their community but their motives and methods need fuller exploration in our post 9/11 world than the film allows. In fact, there are many interesting aspects of the film that would be nice to discuss but Shyamalan has safeguarded himself from criticism by contriving a tale that cannot be discussed thoroughly without unfairly revealing too much to people before they see the film. This would be a nice film to review again after everyone who'd like to see it has had the chance, and then one could fully address the film's flaws and what seem to be logical and structural problems in the story.
The scares Shyamalan creates here come secondhand from The Blair Witch Project (which played on the primal fear of what's out there in the woods) and Brotherhood of the Wolf (which played on people's belief in the supernatural and local myths). The Village lacks the low budget grit of the first and the stylish excesses of the second. Shyamalan does create some moments of suspense, and in the children he does convey some sense of those very primal fears of the unknown. But overall, Shyamalan succeeds less well creating an effective and disquieting mood here than in some of his earlier films.
The actors for the most part seem stiff and formal. Because they seem self-conscious of their performances and their artificially mannered speech, it makes the film feel less immediate and real. Only Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron's daughter) seems at ease with the affected speech pattern and period feel. She conveys the kind of transcendence that the film ultimately aspires to. She captures the innocence that her character is meant to represent.
The Village (rated PG-13 for a scene of violence and frightening situations) is a disappointment although Shyamalan does have underlying ideas that at least make the film potentially interesting to discuss with people who already know the secret.