The intrigue of an M. Night Shymalan film is its signature twist. All of his first three big films had them so you’d expect The Village to have one as well. You might be right. The problem is now that twists are the expectation, the vital element of surprise is no longer there and the inevitable comes off as flat. In his quest to outsmart his audience and outdo his previous films Shymalan has become, dare I say it, predictable.
As the title suggests, The Village explores the isolated village of Covington, Pennsylvania and the superstitions that keep them that way. On the edge of the village is a forest that nobody dares to enter for on the other side are creatures they dare not speak of. On the surface, the village is idealistic but it’s all built on fear. A watchtower looks over the forest and is used to look for said creatures. The colour red is forbidden for it attracts the beasts. Even in play, fear reigns. In one such game, the boys stand on the edge of the woods to see how long they can stand in the open before running off in scared glee and back to the safety of the village.
Despite having made only a handful of films thus far, Shymalan has proven himself a master of tension. He is a great visualist who shows tremendous confidence in bringing his visions to life. Shymalan makes suspense seem so easy it makes you wonder why more filmmakers aren’t so successful with it. You get the sense watching a Shymalan film that every element in the frame is important. It should be this way with all films, but most simply come across as getting the lines of the script onto the screen. Take Shymalan’s use of colour. They’re consistent with the characters. In The Village red is overtly focused on. But there’s also unspoken consistencies that help explain the mysteries.
Maybe I’m not surprised by Shymalan’s surprises anymore because he is so specific about laying things out ahead of time. For example, the revelation in The Sixth Sense is hardly that. If you see what’s going on, all the hints are there. It’s the same here. But now that his style is defined, it’s time for Shymalan to grow. He’s made four consecutive films that while all strong in their own right but are remembered primarily for the hoodwink. While I like his work a lot, it’s time for Shymalan to move on. Sure, it’s money in the bank right now but I, for one, am getting a little tired of it. Watching The Village I found myself tracking all the hints as much as I was following the story.
Although the visuals are still strong and very deliberate, the story is flat. There’s too many characters wandering in the streets and save for Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), they’re little more than archetypes. Adrien Brody’s character, Noah Percy, a mentally immature adult, is particularly troublesome. He makes for an easy out for dead ends in the story. Hit a wall, just have the innocent man who doesn’t know any better mix things up.
One of the things that I look forward to in each of Shymalan’s films is his exploration of storytelling and myth-making. The Sixth Sense looks at the reason for stories; Unbreakable explores the structure; Signs is about the power. The Village brings Shymalan’s exploration full circle as it encompasses all of these to offer an argument for the power of myth.
But while Shymalan is still in the forefront of Hollywood’s storytellers, he’s running the risk of wearing out his welcome. Despite still having a strong sense of mood and location, The Village ultimately falls somewhat flat for the simple reason that it’s merely a Shymalan cliché that he’s done before.
The Village Gallery
The Village Trailer