When watching M. Night Shyamalan's most recent film The Village, one will be reminded of other horror films. The Blair Witch Project comes to mind, an excellent thriller which tapped our fear of the unknown and perhaps even more so our fear of the wilderness. The woods are dark and evil, and it produces inhuman noises that terrify. From the opening scenes of The Village, we know the woods hide a forbidden secret.
That is the heart of The Village and the stark images are unforgettable. Grays and browns dominate this film, which takes place in an isolated 19th century town somewhere in Pennsylvania. Log and stone cabins transport us to another time, lit by the yellows of candles and kerosene lamps. People farm and garden on a daily basis, producing food which is consumed during communal dinners. Men's hair is long and uncut and shoes are crusted with mud. Women are adorned in long dresses, sitting by the warmth of pot-bellied stoves.
Shyamalan has skillfully transported us to another time and place, a grim fairy tale world where the big bad wolf is seemingly hiding within every shadow. The Village is a beautiful film, a Gothic play with minimal dialog and oppressive mood. Shyamalan has also cast extraordinary actors in this piece, most notably William Hurt giving one of his finest performances in years as the town elder. The characters are at times frustratingly passive, and you would like to see more work from such great talents as Sigourney Weaver, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody and Brendan Gleeson. Their presence alone, however, adds great interest to the eerie proceedings.
As in all Shyamalan films, there's one great performance which stands out, in this case Bryce Dallas Howard as the blind woman Ivy Walker, the heart and soul of the village. I have not seen this actress before, though have read she is the daughter of actor and director Ron Howard. It's a splendid performance, as strong as Haley Joel Osment's in The Sixth Sense. It's difficult to discuss this film without giving away some of the surprising plot developments, but Walker must eventually enter the woods, handicapped and alone, and the moments are almost unbearable.