The Village (2004)
Box office: $114,197,520
Rotten Tomatoes score: 43%
What's the twist? Old-timey world isn't as old-timey as it looks.
Following the release of a ridiculous faux-documentary on the Syfy channel called The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan, the much-mythologized filmmaker was due for a fall, and while the movie fared well commercially, I remember The Village as ground zero of the backlash. It's not hard to see why: no big movie stars, period costumes, delicate pacing, occasionally Yoda-like dialogue, and a twist most viewers can "call" 15 minutes in. It's got more in common with Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon or Lars von Trier's Dogville than most modern horror films. For many moviegoers, it probably scans as pretentious.
But there's a (possibly pretentious) case to be made for The Village. In telling the story of a blind woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) who must venture outside her secluded Amish-like community against the wishes of her father (William Hurt) to secure medicine for her dying boyfriend (Joaquin Phoenix), Shyamalan creates some of his most visually striking work. The director is known for storyboarding his films, and here, when teamed with frequent Coen brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins, he finds imagery worthy of 19th-century American wilderness painters: fog floating through fields, a blade pulled from a stomach, or a bright-yellow cloak caked in mud. While the big "twist" is predictable, it also allows for the film to be read in a range of compelling ways: as a parable about white flight, a protest of the Iraq War, or a twisted portrait of parental control gone awry. I hated it when I first saw it, but now I think it might be his most unfairly overlooked film.