M. Night Shyamalan is one of the few working writer/directors with as much name recognition and drawing power as today's top actors. His first major film, The Sixth Sense, was a runaway critical and commercial success, earning six Oscar nominations and grossing nearly $700 million world-wide. The deliberate pacing, understated performances, and "twist" ending made the film markedly different from what most audiences were used to seeing in a movie, and Shyamalan would carry these elements, as well as the film's Philadelphia setting, over into his subsequent efforts. His next film, Unbreakable did for superheroes what Sense did for ghost stories, taking the fantastic and grounding it deeply into reality. And 2002's Signs used many of the same tactics, making it markedly different from any other alien invasion film. Though neither film matched Sense at the box office, both cemented Shyamalan's status as one of the hottest writer/directors in Hollywood. It is entirely due to this status that he was able to make a film like The Village.
With a solid cast, but no major stars, and a script and story that have been closely guarded, The Village enters theaters this week largely under the weight of its creator's name alone. Without Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson to draw the crowd, this movie is Shyamalan's first real test as a singular box office force.
For those concerned with such matters, this review contains significant information about elements of the film's plot and characters, but no major "spoilers."
The nineteenth-century village of the title is a small, isolated settlement in a valley surrounded by dense woods. Its inhabitants, we learn, have abandoned civilization and its ills to live a idyllic existence as a peaceful, self-sustaining community. They refer to the outside world as "the towns," and speak of their lives before in sad, hushed tones. By cutting themselves off from the greed and malice of society, the villagers have built a small utopia, free of the sorrow that drove them to abandon the rest of the world.