Movies Reviews

Why The Village Is M. Night Shyamalan's Most Underrated Masterpiece

M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most continuously fascinating, controversial, and versatile filmmakers working today, as he has still retained his cultural relevance after years of hard work within the industry. While his latest “mystery box” film Knock at the Cabin has been divisive among both critics and audiences, it proved that people were still fascinated by Shyamalan after the entirety of his work. Shyamalan has his fair share of hits and misses; he created some of the most iconic movie twists in history as well as a few of the worst films ever made. However, there’s no film on his resume that deserves more love than The Village.


The Village follows the inhabitants of a small 19th Century community of villagers in Pennsylvania (Shyamalan’s home city) that live in fear of nameless creatures that haunt their woodland areas. As he attempts to court the beautiful, timid girl Ivy Elizabeth Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) grows concerned by the Village Elders’ refusal to allow him to pass through the woods to get medication. The Village fell during an interesting moment in Shyamalan’s career. Although he was cited as the “next Steven Spielberg” after the masterpieces The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, he subsequently released the critically derided films Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. However, The Village is not only one of his most underrated films, but possibly the crowning achievement of his career.

It Has the Best Ensemble Cast

Buena Vista

Even Shyamalan’s worst films tend to have incredible actors in them, but The Village features an absolutely stunning lineup of some of the best performers in the industry. It gives Phoenix an interesting role in which he gets to play a sensitive romantic lead; his awkward charisma couldn’t be any more different than his performances in films like The Master, Joker, and You Were Never Really Here. While Howard has proven with her work on The Mandalorian that she is a much better director than actress, she gives an amazing performance in The Village that shows an isolated girl’s curiosity and fear upon discovering monstrous secrets.

While Adrien Brody’s performance as the intellectually disabled character Noah Percy received some criticism at the time for being insensitive, he was able to show how someone could be taken advantage of both neglectful authority figures that prey upon his blind faith. William Hurt is able to show a manipulative side to Ivy’s father; while he claims to love his daughter, he needlessly puts her into danger in order to shield her from the truth. He’s a complex villain whose motivations aren’t clear until the very end. Sigourney Weaver is also quite nuanced in her depiction of Lucius’ mother, as she cares for him deeply but nonetheless forbids him from venturing out into the woods to explore.

Related: These Are Bryce Dallas Howard’s 11 Best Performances, Ranked

The film even features one of Jesse Eisenberg’s first performances as the young village boy Jamison; it would be one year later that he gains a larger audience after his breakout performance in The Squid and the Whale. While Shyamalan’s cameo roles in his own films can sometimes be distracting, his performance as the security guard at the end of the film is the perfect way to close out the story.

The Twist Improves on a Second Viewing

Touchstone Pictures

If there is anything that Shyamalan is known for, it’s his famously shocking twist endings. As his career continued, the twists in Shyamalan’s films turned from satisfying endings to disappointing misdirections that didn’t hold up under any logical breakdowns. Compared to the impact that The Sixth Sense’s twist had, the baffling creative choices in The Happening were highly disappointing. The Village’s twist is vastly misunderstood; it’s evident to the audience that there is something that the Elders are hiding from the other characters, but it’s clear that they are so isolated that they would never have a reason to question what they believe. Unlike the twists that are included only to trick viewers, The Village’s revelations raise interesting questions about the truths that are taken for granted by societies.

Upon multiple viewings, viewers of The Village are able to notice small details that reveal the film isn’t actually set in the 19th Century. While some critics like Roger Ebert felt that the characters were acting too melodramatically, their pretentious dialect makes sense considering the twist; the Elders are only emulating what they imagine 19th Century villagers would talk and sound like, and thus their proclaimed knowledge is just meaningless. Similarly, the younger characters like Lucius and Ivy are overblown in their emotions because that’s simply the way that they were raised. Even when they are trying to be sincere with each other, Lucius and Ivy seem goofy when they fall in love because they don’t know how to communicate normally.

Related: Best M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Ranked

It’s Shyamalan’s Most Emotional Film

Touchstone Pictures

Not all of Shyamalan’s twists land an emotional impact. While the misdirects in films like Glass and Old are certainly interesting, they don’t do anything other than change the audience’s perception of what the stories are actually about. However, The Village lands an emotional blow that lingers beyond the time the credits roll. There’s an inherent tragedy to the fact that this civilization will continue to operate in secrecy if no one questions the mythology behind the woods. The death of Noah is absolutely heartbreaking to watch, as it’s revealed that one of the enigmatic “monsters” that everyone was terrified of is simply an innocent character who had been manipulated. It stings to hear Noah’s mother Vivian (Celia Watson) weeping at his grave.

The film allows the audience some magnitude for hope whether Ivy or Lucius will ever recognize the truth. Even though Edward Walker has the community under his tight command, there’s the potential that others will recognize the faults in logic and put an end to the ceaseless tragedies. It’s Shyamalan’s most tragic, romantic, and intimate film to date, and the Academy Award-nominated score by James Newton Howard makes it even more powerful.

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