I saw Shyamalan's The Village last week. I think the filmmaker is quite adept at packaging big, existential questions into thrillers. I know I'm in the minority, but I really enjoyed Signs. In a classic bait-and-switch, Shyamalan lures you into the theatre to watch a creature feature, but winds up exploring the nature of faith, and how a man wounded by love's loss, a man of the cloth, recaptures his faith in God. The creatures were a significant letdown, and could quite possibly have been avoided entirely, but that's another story.
[spoiler alert--some giveaways coming]
Back to The Village. I enjoyed this film too. I kept searching for allegorical correlation with contemporary politics. I thought in the early part of the film that the villagers were meant to represent Americans. I thought that their illusory boundary with the forest, and the menace beyond it, was meant to represent the illusory secure perimeter of the nation, and the terrorist threat beyond. That the 'warnings'--small, shaved and gutted animals--corresponded to terrorist incursions on American soil. The allegory was holding up pretty well. But as the story continued to unfold, the symbols started to fall apart and the true themes began to emerge. The film is a meditation on courage and love. There's a line in the movie that goes something like, "We sometimes avoid doing that which we most wish to do so others may not know our desires." The line is spoken by Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard) to Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) and addresses Lucius' reserve and withdrawal from Ivy at the moment his love for her began to swell. The remark opens Lucius' eyes to the unspoken love between his widowed mother (Sigourney Weaver) and Ivy's wedded father (William Hurt). Lucius interposes himself between the invaders and Ivy, and is spurred to confess his love to Ivy and propose. Ultimately, Ivy is called upon to face the menace in the woods in a similar show of love.
The maddening thing about the story is the Elder Council, the aforementioned idiots. We learn the true nature of the threat to the community, and it comes from within. It is the elders' fear and disengagement--a sentiment paralleled in the relationship between Lucius' and Ivy's parents, members of the Council--that leads to the Village's vulnerability. And the really maddening thing is that the prevaricators prevail, turning tragedy to their ends.
A Hollywood movie without a happy ending. How refreshing.
I liked Shyamalan's clever insertion of himself into the movie, a la Hitchcock, via over the shoulder shots and a reflection in a glass cabinet door. The film production if beautiful. The dialog is sometimes stilted, especially when uttered almost robotically by William Hurt. The mediocre dialog and creature design are internally consistent deficiencies in the film. You'll know what I mean once you've seen it. Mostly, the film works. Eight of ten.