Written And Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
I can’t be sure, but I got the distinct feeling that it wanted to harm me. -Graham Hess
A widower who happens to be a Reverend is passing the years by in his peaceful farmhouse with his family after his wifes tragic death. Strange crop circles that can’t be explained appear in his cornfield, and while local pranksters are suspected the family feels something much more sinister is at large. It turns out the instincts of the Hess’s is not far from true. Aliens have used the crop circles to help their space ships land and allow their species to invade and attack the human race. Will the family and the human race survive?
Signs is M. Night Shymalan’s greatest masterpiece. It takes a genre that everyone is familiar with and instead of focusing on the many years of violent alien invasions with massive explosions and escape action sequences the story is structured around faith and the human psyche in a very realistic way. The terror Signs evokes isn’t from the actual aliens or the destruction, it comes from the everyday man situation. The inability to act, and the desolation of solitude are the main fear factors here. Instead of fighting the aliens Will Smith style, this is the guy at home that has no idea Will Smith is even fighting. The common man. The closest I’ve seen this concept enabled was in War Of The Worlds which failed miserably, and spent the majority of it’s tale running and evading threw action sequences, though it did touch on the every man feel. Even Shyamalan wrote in a quote commenting on War Of The Worlds. Nice tongue in cheek acknowledgement to perhaps one of his inspirations.
The film doesn’t build it’s suspense on the final result, but focuses on the countdown to it. This does not mean it was anti-climatic, it simply means each event that occurred, each interaction between character’s was so truly captivating, the actual buildup was just as enjoyable as it’s finish. The “signs” that lead to the finale aren’t given in a “clue” type way, or obvious at all. They are simply written into the story in a way that will truly inspire you to watch through a second time to see what you didn’t see initially.
Of course, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room. The main piece of critic and film aficionado topic of interest when referring to Signs. What that involves is the aliens weakness. I concur it is even worse than the War Of The Worlds aliens that while studying Earth for thousands of years, never bothered to check out immunities to local viruses. The aliens weakness in Signs is just as obvious and just as mind numbing, but going back to Shyamalan’s WOTW reference I have always wondered if the weakness was actually a tribute to WOTW. Either way, it really has little to do with the bigger picture of the plot and is pretty much irrelevant except for the last scene. It could have just as easily been something else as equally insignificant. If the viewer understands what the movie is saying, the aliens weakness will hardly matter upon viewing.
- Mel Gibson as Reverend Graham Hess
- Joaquin Phoenix as Merill Hess
- Rory Culkin as Morgan Hess
- Abigal Breslin as Bo Hess
- Cherry Jones as Officer Paski
- M. Night Shyamalan as Ray Reddy
The character’s are the driving force of Signs. Everything about the entire story is enhanced because of the three dimensional quality created involving the Hess family. Mel Gibson gives one of his best performances playing the grieving widower raising his children alone, yet morally. His interpretation of Rev. Hess shows a strength, but mostly a constant sadness always behind his eyes. Even in the most frightening moments, the flicker of pure loss still lingers in his eyes. That is simply amazing. Joaquin Phoenix plays a secondary role to Gibson’s lead, but makes the family connection that much stronger with an actor of his talent. His character plays key points that make an incredible difference in the points the story makes. The two youngest siblings played by Abigal Breslin and Rory Culkin display a unique naive innocence that only youth allows to convey to point of view of a child. The performances of the grief stricken family is heart wrenching and authentic.
Ratings And Suggestions
A lot of people find Shyamalans films to be too slow paced, and some people even use the terminology: pretentious. I think they are neither. There is a certain feeling of homage to Hitchcock type films. As good? No, he offers a very different genre of film makiing than most of what’s available today and has an appeal to an audience that’s looking for something outside the box. This appeal works for me. His films move slow paced on the surface, but the questions they pose, the ideals they offer propose an endless amount of time after their viewing to be puzzled and debated over. As an avid M. Night Shyamalan fan Signs was an exceptional piece of work. It earned three and a half out of four stars.