The Daily Stream: Despite Its Reputation, 'The Village' Might Be M. Night Shyamalan's Best Movie

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)The MovieThe VillageWhere You Can Stream It: PeacockThe Pitch: A small, secluded 19th-century Pennsylvania village is tormented by mysterious monsters lurking in the woods. But there's a catch.Why It's Essential Viewing: M. Night Shyamalan has a new movie out this week – Old. And whenever there's a new M. Night flick on the way, people start talking about his work, and how it holds up. It seems that most people agree that the three-film-run of The Sixth SenseUnbreakable, and Signs is solid. But it's when we get to The Village that things start to break down. For many, this film was "the beginning of the end" for Shyamalan's success story. But here's the thing: The Village is actually a great movie. In fact, it might just be Shyamalan's best.

I've already gone long on The Village for /Film once before (read that here!), so I'll keep this brief. The Village, which opened in 2004, has seen its fortunes change over the years. These days, I'm seeing more and more people say that the film is good, actually. But that wasn't always the case. I can distinctly remember when The Village hit theaters in 2004, and the negative reaction that followed. Roger Ebert gave the movie one star, and wrote: "The Village is a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn."

General audiences weren't much kinder. And while The Village was by no means a box office disappointment, the general consensus surrounding the film seemed to be one of annoyance. Folks were sick and tired of Shyamalan's propensity for twists, and The Village had a whopper of a twist. In fact, it has multiple big twists. Following The Village, new Shyamalan films were met with open hostility, and for a while there it really seemed like the filmmaker would spend the rest of his days in director's jail. Shyamalan would eventually bounce back nicely with The Visit, a silly-but-fun found footage flick about the horrors of the elderly. That was followed by the even more successful Split. And then came Glass, which...uh, okay, that's a bad movie and I won't defend it. But we're not here to talk about Glass.

All these years later, I remain convinced that The Village was a victim of marketing. Every piece of marketing for the film played up how scary it was going to be. Co-star Sigourney Weaver gave an interview where she said that she couldn't even sleep after reading the script the first time. This was going to be M. Night's next big scary movie! But The Village isn't scary. Not really. Yes, there are horror elements in the film, but it's ultimately a melancholy romantic drama that just happens to have some spooky stuff lurking around the edges. Shyamalan uses the horror hook to draw you into a smaller, quieter, sadder story – and people just weren't in the mood for that. The trailers and posters sold them on a scary movie, and they didn't get that. No wonder people were pissed.

But if you remove the film from its marketing, you find a lovely, gorgeous work. It's the story of people hiding from the big, bad world. People who intentionally wall themselves off from perceived threats. And when that isn't enough, they start inventing new threats – monsters who lurk in the woods and will kill anyone who comes into their domain. But there are no monsters. And that's not even the biggest twist: as it turns out, we're not in the 19th century here. It's actually modern times, and the town elders have set up a facade that the younger people in town are completely unaware of. A more conventional movie might have made this the real plot – characters discovering their whole lives have been a lie and fighting back against that. But that's not what Shyamalan is doing here. In the end, the lie remains. These characters would still rather hide from the real world than go back out there.

At the center of all of this is a sweet, elegant performance from Bryce Dallas Howard, who has really never been better than she is here. She plays blind girl Ivy, who, despite her blindness, is more than capable of handling herself. She's fallen in love with Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), the moody, quiet loner who wants so very much to be brave even though he knows he is not. The romance between Ivy and Lucius is genuinely charming, and Shyamalan and his stars make sure to sell it because that romance is the catalyst for the final act of the film. When Lucius is injured and near death, Ivy has to leave the village and go out into the outside world to retrieve medicine. The journey will not be easy.

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins captures all of this with a painterly eye, conjuring up imagery that looks like it's pulled directly from the paintings of Andrew Wyeth. And James Newton Howard's string-heavy score is lush, sweeping, and heartbreaking. All of this culminates into a somber, stirring story of grief, fear, and the type of aching true love that you only seem to read about in books. If you want to hold firm to your belief that The Village is a bad entry in Shyamalan's filmography, I can't stop you. I can only assure you that you're missing out on a remarkable, unique work from a remarkable, unique filmmaker.