Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
Even the critics were ripe for a Shyamalan backlash: Just as his "Signs" was overrated three years ago, his "The Village" was underrated this year, even though they have a very similar set of strengths and weaknesses. Had the films come out in reverse order, I expect the public opinion of them would be reversed. That's the best explanation I can offer for the simmering hostility that met this film upon its release and has branded it in the public consciousness as a disappointing misfire. I watched the film with open eyes, and what I saw what Shyamalan's best film since the one that made him a superstar.
Shyamalan's skill is not action, it's atmosphere; he has conjured up more scares out of ambient noise and shifting shadows than half the directors of his generation combined. Whether his dialogue is intentionally stilted or not is beside the point; Shyamalan should engross you well enough with the picture that the dialogue seems right even if it isn't. He has always been a better director than a writer, and come to think of it, David Koepp covers similar material and is a better writer than a director. Perhaps it's time for the two men to pool their strengths?
What tires me about Shyamalan is the persistent misconception that his films have twist endings, simply because his most famous production did. "Unbreakable" revealed an interesting character detail in its final moment, but this detail did little to alter the plot or nature of the film as we understood it. "Signs" had no more of a twist ending than any other film about similar subject matter would; it was totally run-of-the-mill. The so-called twist ending of "The Village" does reshape the plot as we understand it, but in a meaningful way that reveals genuine thematic depth in our current political climate; it enriches the film instead of serving itself, and the film would not be nearly as good without it. It is such a no-brainer turn of the plot that had any other director made this film, it would not even be considered a twist ending. As a filmgoing community, let's please move past this notion that Shyamalan's movies are all about the twist at the end; it defeats our ability to enjoy them for what they are.
So what is "The Village"? It's an immersive film that very effectively puts you into this time and place. Roger Deakins's photography often uses candlelight against a backdrop of near-total shadow to suggest how we should feel about this town, which Shyamalan apparently intends as symbolism about the resilence (and appeal) of innocence. The actors are all very good, and they should be; this film put together one of the best casts of the year. Bryce Dallas Howard has a laughably self-serious diary on the DVD, but the young woman can act. She capably carries the film on her shoulders, appearing in most of the shots because of Shyamalan's repeated use of perspective to communicate her blindness. Truly, he's a talented director, but he needs to go back to pure drama or direct somebody else's script before his career is ruined by being unable to live up to lofty expectations.