Let’s be honest, we were all really hard on M Night Shyamalan‘s The Village. With so much hype and everyone looking for a shocking twist, we forgot to pay attention to the film’s beautiful cinematography, the brilliant performances and, of course, the actual story being told.
Every filmmaker who has produced more than one movie has developed a signature style – a trademark that can be found in each of their works. Just consider Tim Burton and his fascination with monochrome landscapes, or Wes Anderson and his keen eye for detail and symmetry.
Then, we have directors like M. Night Shyamalan. These creators, while lacking a distinctive visual style, hide their trademarks in how they tell their stories. In Shyamalan’s case, everyone knows that the man just loves his plot twists. This is all fine and all, but there can be some issues when a filmmaker falls victim to their own limitations, or even worse, to what audiences expect from their works. That’s more or less what happened with The Village, one of M Night Shyamalan’s most disproportionately vilified films.
A Modern Fairytale
For context, The Village was released at a challenging moment for Shyamalan’s career. Hot of the successes of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, it seemed like the filmmaker could do no wrong – until Signs came around. That movie was mocked for its weak plot and strange characters, not to mention the unsatisfactory plot twist of the aliens’ weakness.
It was clear that The Village needed to be a success, which is why Shyamalan went above and beyond with the production design of his sixth major film. In terms of presentation and costume design, none of Shyamalan’s films, before or after, has come close to what we saw in The Village.
Once you look past the plot’s shortcomings – because no film is without its flaws – you’ll find that Shyamalan has managed to craft a breathtaking society of fascinating characters and complex social structures. Perhaps, the best way to describe The Village would be to call it a modern fairytale. Had the movie been released a few years later, maybe under A24’s banner, we’d be seeing raving reviews for it left and right.
Ironically, The Village falls victim to M Night Shyamalan himself. People wanted to see the movie not because of its spectacular cinematography, or for its fascinating production design, but because they wanted to see what sort of plot twist Shyamalan was going to conjure up next.
Generally speaking, Shyamalan does a great work of hiding what the twist is going to be in most of his movies. Some of the weaker ones, like The Happening or Signs, don’t rely excessively on their twists, just because they have almost no bearing on the plot whatsoever. However, in The Village, the twist changes everything for the characters involved in the story. This only makes it even worse when Shyamalan gives it away early on in the film.
Spoiler alert: there are no creatures living in the woods surrounding the village. The whole thing was a ploy by the elders, who are aware that they live in a secluded society that’s set to resemble a 19th-century town, but it’s actually deep in the woods in modern times.
This all sounds great and all, but Shyamalan reveals the twist midway through the plot, answering the questions of those in the audience that went to see the flick only because they wanted to see Shyamalan’s next twist ending. Even the marketing for The Village promised a similar unexpected conclusion to that of The Sixth Sense, paying little to no attention to some of the more praiseworthy elements of the film.
If you’re in the mood for one of the most finely crafted period thrillers ever made, and you’ve already seen The Witch, then definitely consider giving The Village a watch. It’s nowhere near as bad as some people say, even if it doesn’t have the killer trees from Shyamalan’s best comedy, The Happening.