Warning this piece will start with spoilers and continue with them. Part of my response/encouragement to give this movie a second chance is based on the big twist, so it will be mentioned early.
I saw this movie in theaters with friends, and I remember misunderstanding the plot from the start. This misunderstanding led me to “spoil” the big twist for myself; I knew from the start of the movie that someone would eventually leave and “discover” that they were in modern times. I also didn’t think that the town elders hid it all that well. I preface this piece with that anecdote because, honestly, it served me well. I have always liked this movie more than the average joe, and I think it has a lot to do with not being set up for or let down by the big twist ending.
It’s now been much longer than I care to think about, and I think it’s time that we give this movie another chance. And I think a large part of that is knowing now what I accidentally knew then. If you know the twist, don’t assume it is a twist, and just go in with the idea of watching the movie, not expecting to be surprised by the fact that they are “in the present,” then you can really appreciate the good parts of it. So with that, this Impressions is clearly less my thoughts and more abject praise for a horror movie I greatly enjoy, and I think others might too.
The Village is M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 film, and I honestly believe that, yes, even this early in his career, the expectation of a “twist” started hurting his storytelling. Setting that and the larger conversation aside and just looking at The Village, it is honestly a decent horror movie, and I think one of his better ones.
The movie follows Ivy Walker, who is blind and seemingly living in the 1800s, with all the difficulties that life brings. The movie’s earlier part is a rather slow-burn introduction to the key characters and Ivy’s romance with Lucius (terrible name for not bad guys). Side note, I am an absolute sucker for this romance. I have spoken often about romance being my big love other than horror (yes, I know that’s odd), and these two are just… lovely. I digress.
In the backdrop of this seemingly normal but difficult village life are the things they do not speak of. The village sacrifices animals to them, fears them, and has to hide the color red. They are the main source of horror throughout the entire movie. The way in which the village is shown to absolutely fear them is rather gripping. The first long scene with them is one of the more suspenseful I’ve seen in horror. It creates a perfect atmosphere of something constantly there, pressing on this safe life.
Eventually, Lucius is badly hurt, and Ivy refuses to accept this. She demands to be allowed to leave, and her father comes to her aid. I have… issues with this. Edward Walker (Ivy’s father) has preached the need to stay in the village to keep it safe the entire movie but completely goes back on it for Ivy. It makes a sweet sort of sense but is slightly annoying.
Anyway, Edward reveals to Ivy that those they do not speak of are not real, and rather a way to keep control of the people in the village. He goes on to explain that each of the elders had suffered a great loss in life and fled to the village to escape the evils of the outside world and wanted to keep their children and others from going back.
So Ivy, along with some guides, who leave her fairly early, set off towards “the towns.” It is at this point that the twist for ME happened. Ivy is pursued by one of the creatures. The creatures that her father told her were just a tool for keeping people from leaving the village. Next to the earlier scene, this one is by far the most intense. Ivy is at a disadvantage because of her lack of sight, but for me, the scariest part is the panic that must have set in. Imagining for a moment, she were real the amount of panic and confusion that she must have felt — Did her father lie to her? Or did he not, and was she being pursued by someone from town? Is someone from the village willing to kill her to keep it safe?
This moment was the real height of the movie, and the real twist, for me. Much like the build-up was a slow burn, I just thought everything after was a slow outro. The reveal of who it is is honestly heartbreaking, but Ivy’s moments being hunted by “them” are quite scary, and the impact lands entirely.
Ivy now questions her father. She can’t really reveal that they are in modern times, only that the whole experience outside the village was confusing. Lucius will be saved, and… for better or for worse, the village will survive. It is a difficult, in the best possible way, ending. Is it good that Ivy has seemingly been the one person to leave, and her return will not break this village down? Is it a good thing that they will manage to not only keep the fear of the creatures and leaving the village but likely increase those fears?
This movie does a lot right. It is well-acted, beautifully shot, has compelling characters in a well-developed world that means there will be an emotional impact. There is great romance, humor, suspense, fear, dread. It also has a great “twist” before the “real” one that lands better. I honestly think genre fans, and even people who aren’t really “horror fans” but those who like to dip their toes in with certain movies should surely give this one another chance.
It is not the greatest, and parts have aged a little… poorly. However, it’s a good movie, and I can’t stress enough how great the cinematography is in some moments. If you can separate it from the expectation of “a twist” and judge it on its merits, I think some might find a movie they like more than they realized. I think even without being able to achieve that separation, it’s still not as bad as people said when it was released.
Bottom line – Watch The Village again, please!