As his isolated, tight-knit community lives in mortal fear of an oppressive evil inhabiting the forbidden woods just beyond their tiny village, one determined man (Joaquin Phoenix) dares to boldly step into the unknown and confront the astonishing truth.


The Village is M. Night Shyamalan's sixth feature film, and he continues his merry way bringing scary stories to the big screen. He says that his latest was inspired by Emily Bronte's 19th century novel Wuthering Heights and creature-feature King Kong. But that might be reaching a little too high – for my money it is more Sleepy Hollow meets Blair Witch.

An isolated community of 19th century villagers live the simple life next to a forest brimming with scary monsters, "those they cannot speak of". Signs star Joaquin Phoenix heads up a solid cast as Lucius, the town rebel who wants to face the town's collective fears by journeying through the forbidden zone (where the hooded beasties live), and into the unknown beyond its borders. He is thwarted by an accident, so it is left up to his blind girlfriend Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) to make the trip and find medical help in order to save her man.

Not all of the performances are great in The Village. Sigourney Weaver (Alien) and William Hurt (The Accidental Tourist) seem under-used and wooden, so it is left to the younger cast to really shine, which they do.

The Village
is characteristic Shyamalan in that it is a beautifully crafted gothic tale. Shot by Coens' cinematographer Roger Deakins with an equally considered sound design, and the sense of anticipation Shyamalan creates is delicious. The deliberate pace and incremental narrative style sees to that. There is no question that on a technical level this guy is the real deal. It is another of Shyamalan's movie meditations on fear, spirituality, personal loss and family values. It shows his hand as an unashamed old-fashioned filmmaker who makes films the old-fashioned way about old-fashioned values.

Ron Howard is another overtly humanist filmmaker making these kinds of films inside the Hollywood studio system, and they come to mind whilst watching The Village. (As do the Unabomber and the proliferation of secessionist militia communities that have proliferated in the rural US over the last 20 years.) Six degrees of separation then with the casting of Bryce Dallas Howard, Howard's 23-year-old actor daughter in her first lead film role.

At a certain point in The Village it is not too difficult to decode Shyamalan's somewhat 'Spielbergian' message, which is perhaps the director's most conservative to date. After creating such a palpable sense of anticipation throughout, I suspect that audiences might feel ripped off once all is said and done. The 'loss of innocence' declaration is probably too moralising and simplistic for the film to have the deeper resonance of Shyamalan's best film so far, The Sixth Sense (1999).