(This may be considered by some to be a spoiler… You might want to read it after you see the film).
M. Knight Shyamalan has done it again. He has created another horror film with THE VILLAGE. Sure, there’s a difference between this and SIGNS or THE SIXTH SENSE, or even UNBREAKABLE and WIDE AWAKE (a little movie that people who treasure family films – in the best sense of the word – will love). All of these have a spiritual dimension, other worldly. What binds all of these films together, however, is that they are predicated on chaos over which one person or more have no control. This is what makes a horror movie that works. They scare.
I once heard Wes Craven speak and he said that the reason people go to horror films is because they are already scared… They go so they can gain a kind of symbolic control over the chaos of their lives. And there is a beginning, a middle and an end to a horror film. Closure.
What makes THE VILLAGE interesting is that it’s about a group of white people, and families, presumably well off enough to live well in isolated circumstances; there are only hints of any work being done to support the group. The people seem to be living around the year 1900 and they are surrounded by Covington Forest. They seem peaceful, at least the leaders do; everyone else is pretty much terrified by “those of whom we never speak” who dwell in the forest. They are attracted by red berries, so the people dig them up whenever they see them. Some villagers have seen the creatures; they certainly hear them. The creatures wear red capes, and have claws and horns, and skeletal faces. As the film opens we see skinned dogs left about the village, and we see a young girl getting all sweet on a young man, Lucisus (played by SIGNS actor Joaquin Phoenix). School goes on as normal; a wedding takes place; and Lucius spurns the girl in favor of Ivy, the blind daughter of the school master and head of the village, Edward Walker (John Hurt.)
At night, Lucius helps keep guard over the village that is surrounded and seemingly protected by a ring of fire. Another skinned dog appears; someone sees one of the red-caped creatures.
At a meeting of elders one day, Lucius asks permission of the elders to go out among the towns to get medicine for Noah,the “village idiot.”. He thinks the creatures will sense his good heart and let him pass. The elders turn him down.
Adrien Brody plays Noah, but he is not as handicapped as he seems. When Lucius and Ivy’s love is made known, he stabs Lucius and leaves him for dead.
Ivy seems to have preternatural vision, and the courage of a “man.” She asks permission of her father to go to the towns to get medicine for Lucius. He makes a list of the needed medicines and lets her go, accompanied by two young men, dressed in the yellow capes that are supposed to signal the creatures that those who wear them do so in peace.
This is where we start to understand what’s going on. It’s like the ending comes here but there’s still more scary stuff to come. The acts of the film seem inverted (two and three).
Yet the film worked for me. I went to see this with my sister and I have bruises on my arm where she kept grabbing onto me at the scary scenes.
THE VILLAGE is a psychological horror film about fear – real fear and manufactured fear; fear of the chaos of life and living because of the bad things that can and do happen, fear manipulated to keep people under control so they will be safe (supposedly); and maybe its about the false security created by an addiction to fear.
Who has the right to keep people from living freely, under the guise of keeping them safe, by creating a situation of perpetual terror from threat of attack? Do you terrorize your own children so that they will not stray into the forest and see what’s beyond the narrow horizon you have built for them?
I kept thinking this film was going to be about religious fanatics, but that didn’t happen, though God was mentioned as part of village life here and there.
I think that this film could be seen through the lenses of family, community, faith tradition (how the people who interpret teaching can create and promote an image of God that controls people rather than empowering them to fulfill their true nature as children of a loving God), and nations. Fear is a universal emotion; how we deal with fear is where conscience, freedom and responsibility come into play.
I thought early on that the film was going to be about supernatural evil vs. supernatural and natural good, like THE SIXTH SENSE. No, it was about the extremes good people will go to when they cannot handle the chaos, grief, abuse, and sins that life hands to them. If they cannot name the darkness, they create darkness to deal with it.
THE VILLAGE is a movie with ideas, and without a very satisfying ending.
Some things are never explained, like why Ivy sees people in “colors”; no one ever questions the village elders and how they know what the creatures will respond to and what antagonizes them – though we do find out how the village came to be. The Noah character deserves more consideration than what I have done here, because I didn’t want to give away the whole plot. Shyamalan has finally chosen a female protagonist (all his other films focus on the male characters), though her father pulls all the strings.
Coventry Forest… a wild life preserve… a covenant made between a group of people never to leave the village, and a covenant broken.
Why only white people? (The film offers a plausible answer, that begs even more conversation.)
It would also be worth exploring how Shyamalan uses the same techniques in his films, e.g. the color red (THE SIXTH SENSE); aliens and “the other”…
Lots to talk about.