When The Village drew to its close, a section of the audience burst into applause, although whether this was out of appreciation of fine cinema or joy that it'd finally ended, we're not sure. It's a little frightening to think the reason might have been the former. In which case, it's the only frightening thing that happened during the entire show.
As you've probably gathered from the trailers and innumerable interviews with cast and crew, the story is set in an idyllic little 19th century hamlet that lives in gut-chomping fear of the beasts, a.k.a. Those We Do Not Speak Of. Only nobody ever speaks of anything else here. The council of elders talks of Them in loaded, cryptic tones; the villagers discuss Them as they pick daisies, herd sheep and do other things picturesque; and the children use Them to add that extra edge to their games of Truth or Dare.
The little village is cut off from civilization by dense woods that house hideous, monstrous creatures, whose rumbling groans and slavering moans punctuate every mealtime with dread. But the council of elders is confident that the village is safe so long as no one crosses the borders. Every once in a while strange things happen. Marks appear on doors in the bad color (red), skinned carcasses of livestock dot the scenery, and boy falls in love with girl.
The quiet, brooding Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) is crazy about the blind Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is the sprightliest character in the film. Shyamalan infuses their brief love story with warmth, and an almost ethereal glow, whether they're running from the beast holding hands, or parleying on the porch. It is their love that tests the boundaries, as it were, of the village's collective fear. If we said anything more, we might ruin a perfectly lukewarm surprise, so let's put it this way: one of them has to step into the woods to save the other's life. Knocked your socks off, did we not?
Also in love with the radiant Ivy is Noah (Adrien Brody), the village simpleton who is the only one not afraid to step over the border and take a stroll in the woods. To man this crucial boundary and ring the warning bell should the beasts come looking for dinner, the council appoints a wet, squidgy boy who sits on a tower, equipped with a lantern and a cloak of the friendly color - yellow. How anyone had the heart to leave a sad little creature like that to keep patrol is beyond us.
A lot of things about The Village are similarly beyond us. Like why everyone in this village walks, talks and even smiles in a severely stilted manner. It's like they're all at a period costume party, and feeling a little silly about the whole thing. Like why the beast had to actually materialize in disappointing red robes, claws and quills, thereby destroying any hope of a more sophisticated horror story. Like why, despite some incisive character sketches and lush cinematography, this film makes you feel like an outsider throughout. You're more wary than involved, more annoyed than surprised, and more amused than shocked.