Fear of the unknown can be crippling, if you’re forever left wondering if there really are monsters hiding, waiting for you to emerge, catching you when you least expect it. But as with most things, curiosity gets the better of you and this where we find ‘The Village’.
In 2004 M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Village’ was released to mediocre reviews. Trying something very different from his previous films and not just because its a period drama, at first, there doesn’t seem to be the famed ‘twist’ that Shyamalan is known for. This is about whether or not there are monsters in the woods and how a small isolated community, that for once is not suspicious or have a cult air about them, who live in the woods, far from the towns, where wicked people live. Fear is what keeps them safe but where there is uncertainty, there is curiosity. No sooner as one brave townsperson asks to go to the towns for medicine, than the creatures, or, Those We Do Not Speak Off, breach the town border leaving warnings of dead animals and painted signs on doors. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
Feeling very much like a completely different sort of film, borderline horror due to the sounds and glimpses of the monsters that lurk in the wood, the story is very much about secrets. With fear and secrets you would think that an outsider would arrive, but ‘The Village’ is not that sort of film. Exploring grief, death, innocence and the unknown, Shyamalan creates a feeling of unease alongside a romance and yes, those pesky secrets which as Lucius points out, are in every corner of the village, namely in the homes of the elders. Why have those tempting boxes on display in the first place? These are for the benefit of the audience, to remember they exist and to continuously bring up the theme of secrets. The elders say it is for their wellbeing to not forget the past so that it reforms in another way, which to be honest, is actually an excellent therapeutic way of dealing with past sadness.
As well as monsters, death also surrounds the village. Beneath the content and happy lifestyle the people have built for themselves, we find out that each of the elders have experienced great loss, more specifically a loved one who has died in a horrific way.
Innocence is a treasured part of the villagers, embodied in their way of life. No violence has befallen anyone. The community is (apart from those secret boxes) open with one another. Having town meetings to celebrating weddings together and comforting one another at a funeral. Noah, the simple minded member of the community who is the only one to show any type of violence. He also is the only one who sees through the noises in the woods, the creatures who invade the village. We first seem him clapping and applauding while everyone else sits in silent fear. Noah is technically the outsider of the story, because he, apart from the elders, knows the truth. Also as the outsider, he is the only person in the village to show signs of violence. He is reprimanded by Ivy for hitting people, be it playfully, with a stick. They strike a deal that he mustn’t do it again and avoid going to the quiet room. This lightly foreshadows the film’s later events where the protagonist of the story shifts. The fear of evil reaching the village plays on everyone’s minds but no one ever thinks that violence can be found within. Making Noah the outsider makes him seem less innocent, which is how everyone else perceives him, but making him a murderer is an odd choice. His violent behaviour could be explained away by his mental capabilities but seems unfair to make him an exception and more of an outsider to the rest of the village. Noah does redeem himself but only by unwittingly sacrificing himself so that the village can live on.
At the centre of the story, there is usually a protagonist just like Shyamalan’s films before but instead, there is a shift. Lucius Hunt played by Joaquin Phoenix as the strong silent man who wants to brave the woods to bring back medicine seems like the obvious candidate for this role. It is pointed out that he is not like the others in the village, making him a the lead as well as sort of outsider but towards the third act of the film, this lead role is shifted to Ivy, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. She is talkative, bright and doesn’t let the fact that she is blind exclude her from anything. Due to her blindness, she is also an outsider and due to Noah’s act of violence, she too becomes determined to brave the woods. It’s no coincidence that the three people in the village who have crossed over to the woods and want are the three most likely outsiders to the rest of the village. This protagonist shift itself could be seen as one of the many smaller plot twists embedded in the film.
As this is an M. Night Shyamalan film, we’ve come to except that there’s twist to come. We think its the truth about the monsters in the woods but once this is revealed, we’re left to think this is just about a community who wants to cut themselves off from the evil in the towns. So in the final few scenes when Ivy reaches her destination, it becomes clear that Ivy was the only person for this journey due to her blindness. This feels less like a typical twist and rather an explanation for the elders actions. The fact that such a large group of people could feel this much grief that they wanted to leave and start their own community speaks volumes about the pain they suffered.
The themes of the film come full circle, near the end when Ivy reaches her destination, out of the woods. Death, is what brought the elders together, innocence is what they want to preserve, secrets are what they keep in order to keep everyone safe and fear is what keeps the village together,united. ‘The Village’ evokes a sense of mystery in the title alone as it is never named, but instead of the story twisting on its head that the evil was always there (Noah’s actions aside here) instead of the woods and towns. The expectation that there was meant to be something else in the story is most likely why it was not as successful as Shyamalan’s previous films. But look to the secrets and the signs throughout the film, there you will understand why this film deserves a second viewing and can stand the test of time.