The Village is M. Night Shyamalan latest thriller which this time explores how mythical creatures affect the people of an apparently utopian little town in rural Pennsylvania. The extremely invisible VFX work was provided by Illusion Arts under the supervision of Syd Dutton and ILM under the supervision of Eric Brevig.
M. Night Shyamalan now brings us to the world of mythical (and possibly dangerous) creatures which are in a truce with the inhabitants of a seemingly utopian village. Joaquin Phoenix plays Lucius Hunt, a quiet young man, son of Sigourney Weaver's character (a widow), who becomes convinced he should risk going into the woods to get medicine from "the towns", after his best friend (the father played by Brendan Gleeson) dies of illness. William Hurt plays the village elder Ed Walker, with Bryce Dallas Howard (Ivy) and Judy Greer (Kitty) playing two of his daughters. Adrien Brody is the village idiot. Cherry Jones, who also appeared on Signs with Phoenix, and Michael Pitt round out the cast. Even though Lucius is prohibited from entering the woods, he briefly does so and may upset the balance, with animals becoming mutilated and creatures entering the village.
What follows is an intense character study: how does fear fear affect this society, what people will do for love and to avoid pain, and what is the price to pay for a Utopian society. It's not only fear of the creatures that shapes the society but in case of the elders it's the mysterious black boxes that lock away their past and in many instances are as scary as what lurks outside. While Phoenix's Lucius is the protagonist it is Bryce Dallas Howard's Ivy that steals the entire show. In the beginning it's Lucius who shows courage in trying to get the medicine, with Ivy (the girl he secretly loves) being content of letting things stay the same. When tragedy strikes it's Ivy's love the furiously compels here to right a wrong and Howard is magnificent in portraying both an innocent (and somewhat mischievous) person and one with the courage of a lion.
Not only is the film a crafty character piece but is also a stunning looking work, from the whimsical costume design, they melancholic and haunting music, its idyllic town and foreboding forests, but especially how beautifully is shot. Even the foreboding shots at night carry a distinct visual impact and M. Night Shyamalan effectively uses color to depict the two worlds until then at truce. The only problem arises a bit from the editing but that is mostly a consequence of how the story is told. The action suddenly changes POV or narrative just when a big revelation is about to come, which is not as ingenious as the tricks on the Sixth Sense, nor as subtle and sublime as Unbreakable, or straightforward like Signs. Also a few of the times some of the direction for Bryce Dallas Howard is a bit off, especially at the beginning when there are times when she keeps here sight fixed on certain people or things. Shyamalan should have done a few other takes to consistently portray Ivy as a mostly blind person.
Which brings us to the core of the film which is difficult to mention without spoiling it. As with his last 3 films there is a catch to all this and in this case we actually get 3 twists. The first two are ways to increase the stakes and might even be guessed what is their nature, even though Shyamalan doesn't give much if any clues (either obtuse like in The Sixth Sense, or subtle but plain and simple as in Unbreakable) but follow from what he has presented. They serve to expand the themes presented. In probably what will make this film the most polarizing of Shyamalan's, the final twist or revelation comes totally out blue with no warning whatsoever and totally turns on its head everything. The characterizations and indeed the context of the film are presented in such a new light as to make one feel one got another movie spliced in.
Even after many days I'm still not sure what to make of the ending. Part of me really likes it because of what it says about their and our society and the human spirit, but the other part would really have liked if the ending had been done in the context of what was shown for most of the film.
As with other of Shyamalan's the VFX work is rather minimal and in this case it's so invisible that I don't dare to even speculate where most of it is. Brian Johnson and his crew of Edge FX were in charge of bringing to like Mark "Crash" McCreery's creature design, which works remarkably well in the films context.
The Final Verdict
As time passes the film is growing on me because even though the ending is too contrasting and maybe even ridiculous the implications are really though provoking and makes for an even more interesting character study of what really happened. While I have a feeling many will not like the film or feel cheated I still would highly recommend it, in this age when so many movies come out of the same old tired molds. It a stunning looking film with totally invisible VFX that will certainly haunt me for a very long time. It might not be as clever as Shyamalan previous installments but the journey was more than worth it.