Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Village
USA 2004 : ‘M Night’ [Manoj Nelliyattu] SHYAMALAN : 109 mins
The title refers to an isolated rural settlement whose name and precise geographical location are not revealed. As ever, Shyamalan parcels out information very sparingly – but we spot a newly-chiselled gravestone identifying the date as 1897. An oration by schoolteacher – and unofficial community leader – Edward Walker (William Hurt) indicates that for years the villagers have lived in a state of uneasy truce with ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’: the shadowy, apparently carnivorous creatures who inhabit the forests encircling the settlement.
But one day taciturn young Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) impulsively dares to transgress the clearly delineated boundary – and the village receives a terrifying nocturnal visit from a dimly-glimpsed but hideous, red-cowled humanoid. This only serves to sharpen Hunt’s wanderlust. He’s spurred on by his growing affection for Walker’s blind daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) – a romance which doesn’t go down well with their ‘simple-minded’ friend Noah Percy (Adrien Brody). Events come to a head when violent crime leaves a villager hovering close to death: someone must go to ‘The Towns’ beyond and obtain medical supplies. But who will be sufficiently courageous to enter the woods?
From the first scene to the last, The Village is a skilfully-directed piece of work: Shyamalan’s instinctive grasp of his trade’s nuts and bolts (framing, cutting, pacing) is backed up by top-drawer contributions from seasoned pros like Roger Deakins (cinematography), Christopher Tellefsen (editing), James Newton Howard (score), Ann Roth (costumes) and Tom Foden (art direction).
The dialogue-free scenes work best – especially the breathless ‘night visit’ which features stunning and sparing use of slow motion. But while the archaic verbiage takes some getting used to, the solid cast (the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Celia Weston and Cherry Jones occupy relatively minor roles) mostly fare very well – and relative-newcomer Howard is outstanding. At times the portentous use of Audible Capitals veers close to self-parody – as when Hurt takes Howard to ‘The Old Shed That Is Not To Be Used’ – but the denouement reveals such apparent portentousness to be entirely justified.
While the mood and premise aren’t especially original – Shyamalan is tapping into a strain of American gothic as old (in literature and painting) as the nation itself – this kind of fare is refreshing material for a mid-summer multiplex-bound blockbuster. You wouldn’t find the end-credits scroll of, say, I Robot kicking off with “Featured Violinist.” And If Shyamalan is – as we’re constantly being told – “the next Spielberg” then The Village can be seen as his variation on the wind-blown rural ominousness of Something Evil, the 1972 TV movie which rivals any of Spielberg’s later features.
In a way Shyamalan already is “the next Spielberg” – he’s reached the stage where he’s held in such awe by the studio that nobody dares point out that not everything he dreams up is necessarily a great idea. Because The Village – when its secrets are eventually laid bare – doesn’t actually make any sense. This may not be apparent while audiences are actually watching the film, so expertly and enjoyably does Shyamalan manipulate our responses. There are two major plot twists which, while they render the film progressively less scary, actually serve to make it much more interesting: there’s certainly no shortage of food for thought here – philosophical, political, psychological. But it only functions on the level of fable: the more viewers think about the picture afterwards, the more plot holes they will uncover. The Village is an intricate, beautiful, ambitious and memorable construction – it just doesn’t hold very much water.
13th August, 2004
(seen 11th August : Odeon, Newcastle-upon-Tyne : press show)
click here for ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’, Neil Young’s further comments on The Village. NB – this page contains major spoilers and should therefore not be read by anyone who has not seen the film.
by Neil Young