In an isolated village somewhere in America, the townsfolk are burying a child who died of an infection. It is a solemn occasion, and the open air meal they hold later is made even more sombre by the sound of someone - or something - howling in the woods which surround the settlement. This is Those We Don't Speak Of, the mysterious guardians of the forest which the townsfolk have an uneasy pact with; they won't venture into the woods, and the forces beyond won't enter the village. But all is not well, as skinned animals are being found with the culprits believed to be Those We Don't Speak Of, although nobody will admit it. Life has been a question of balance up until now, but soon an event will occur which will put the simple lives of the villagers in jeopardy, and tip the scales in favour of the entities beyond the forest...
Even if you didn't know beforehand, you might be able to guess The Village was brought to you by writer-producer-director M. Night Shyamalan. The same funereal pace, the low key acting, the threat of the supernatural invading life, and of course, the big twist. Unfortunately, Shyamalan's reputation goes before him, and the big twist was all anyone concentrated on with regard to this, by now his fourth film in this vein, as if it was a joke with a much anticipated punchline. Unlike Signs, but like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, The Village's climactic revelation has a real emotional effect on the characters, and a quiet resonance. Shyamalan was being vilified by the time this came out, apparently for having the cheek to take his fantasies very seriously indeed, but The Village is perfectly fair in its story, not the cheat that some would have you think.
Although the majority of villagers are too scared to wonder about what's in the woods, one young man, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) has a burning curiosity. The teenage boys play a game where they stand as close to the perimeter as they dare, listening to the creatures approach for as long as they can before fleeing in terror, but Lucius is made of sterner stuff. He has love interest in the form of Kitty (Judy Greer), but he turns down her marriage proposal, much to her consternation. He's more concerned with Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), her practically blind sister, who is also the object of affection for Noah (Adrien Brody), a rather backward fellow who the villagers tolerate as one would a mischeivous schoolboy. As Lucius goes to the elders, led by Edward (William Hurt), they are not keen on his plans to leave.
Most of the cast bar Brody, who overacts his simpleton role, opt for dignity in their portrayals, lending the already stony-faced atmosphere even more weight which it may or may not deserve. Shyamalan has created a myth-like background for his characters to interact in front of, and we learn more about Those We Don't Speak Of over the course of the story. They hate the colour red, which will attract their unwelcome attention, and is perhaps coincidentally the colour of blood, and take sacrifices in the form of the livestock the villagers slaughter for them. But now do they want more? A very strong sequence sees a few of Those We Don't Speak Of staging an assault on the settlement, and we get glimpses of tall figures dressed in red cloaks and with claws and spiny growths on their backs as the villagers hide in their cellars, as if it were an air raid.
If there's a drawback to all this, it's the joyless mood hanging heavily over everything; not simply the overcast skies, the bleak woods or the Spartan dwellings, but the feeling of oppression, like a malevolent version of The Little House on the Prairie. Soon tragedy strikes, and Ivy decides that she must pluck up her courage and enter the foreboding of the forest to get help, proving that much as they would like to, the villagers can't exist without outside assistance. The loss of innocence is what The Village frets about, and whether once you have lost that innocence, you can ever get it back - the answer would appear to be not without a lot of effort and a return to what is basically ignorance. The elders think they are working in the best interests of their community by never straying from their homes, but they can't keep the fears of the outside world away for good. Finally, The Village may be provocative in its severe solution to a harsh society, but most viewers will be preoccupied with the twist, and whether it's a letdown or not. Music by James Newton Howard.
Indian-born, American-raised writer and director, whose forte is taking cliched fantasy stories and reinventing them with low-key treatment, usually with a child at the heart of them. After gentle comedy Wide Awake, he hit the big time with supernatural drama The Sixth Sense. Superhero tale Unbreakable was also successful, as was the religious alien invasion parable Signs. Shyamalan's mystery drama The Village was seen as ploughing the same furrow for too long by some, and his fantasies Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth (which he didn't conceive the plot for) were met with near-universal derision. On a lower budget, he made The Visit, which was cautiously received as a partial return to form, and Split, which was his biggest hit in some time. He also co-wrote Stuart Little.