The Village, much-maligned for not living up to M. Night Shyamalan's media-manufactured reputation for shocking twists, was actually a pretty good movie when judged on its own merits.
An interesting, well-told story - not quite the allegory of a post-9/11 world some critics have suggested - it features what is arguably one of the most amazing debut performances by a young actress in Bryce Dallas Howard. There is no way in the world Kirsten Dunst, the original actress cast in the role, could have handled the part as the movie would have sunk on her frail, one-note shoulders.
The twists, Shyamalan's albatross, are many but are relatively subtle and more deeply woven into the fabric of his story this time. Where his previous three films centered on a major twist and lived or died on his successfully pulling them off, in The Village he succeeds in spite of the big surprise. And it's a clever little one, much more thought-provoking than scare-inducing, requiring more investment in seeing a good story play out than playing a guessing game. Not unlike Unbreakable, his least "successful" movie.
In other words, Shyamalan demands a bit more from the audience this time out, and rewards those who give it to him.
My one criticism is his change in pacing. One of my favorite aspects of a Shyamalan movie is his willingness to let scenes breathe longer than usual, often allowing intense moments of silence that ultimately say more than twice as much dialogue could. In The Village, especially in the first reel, there are way too many jump cuts and abrupt scene changes that cause the score to feel like the needle skipped. At only two hours long, it would have benefitted from another 10 minutes of breathing room.
All in all, Unbreakable remains my favorite, but anyone that suggests Shyamalan has lost a step with The Village probably ranks White Chicks and Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid among their Top 10 summer movies.