Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
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Landing in from Planet expectation, the new sci-fi blockbuster from Sixth Sense wonderboy M.Night Shyamalan, “Signs” comes packed with pre-conceived notion and an instantaneous mêlée against the director’s previous, commended, writing/directing efforts. In some ways, “Signs” is far from the movie you expect. But this is a good thing. For the most part, the surprise of finding something different from the director is as welcome as an affable otherworldly visitor.
An extraordinary cross between Field of Dreams and “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”, Shyamalan’s film blends together elements of humanity, faith, drama, tears, tension, terror, humour and the supernatural and succeeds in being one of the sharpest and most exciting films of the year.
Former Preacher Graham Hess (Gibson) awakes to find strange crop circles have formed on his farm. No one seems very alarmed, just putting it down to local hooligans. However, when the television informs the family these events are happening the world over, the panic button is pushed.
Dropping cryptic clues to the inevitable twist finale right throughout the movie, “Signs” revels in the fact that it’s manipulating its audience. Anytime the phone rings you’re expected to jump, when the dog furiously barks you jump, and when a slippery hand appears from under a pantry door you’ll scuttle with fear. It’s a cinematic experience like no other.
With “Signs”, Shyamalan again proves himself a force to be reckoned with. He has written and conceived an exhilarating, very imaginative film. Sure, it bears obvious parallel to “alien encounter” flicks of years gone by (“Close Encounters”, “Independence Day”) but he has merely used those films from the genre as a template, and mixed in his more original, intellect elements. It’s unfair to tag the film a “science fiction” film. It’s indescribable. There are so many other elements to it – drama, human emotion, and even big laughs. But when it does delve into science fiction it is at it’s best. The “what might be behind the door” style scares in this film are some of the best I’ve seen on screen in a long time. You’ll be jumping out of your seat!
The always-dependable Gibson delivers another spot-on performance. If Shyamalan had cast his usual lead, Bruce Willis, in the part, I doubt we could have got such an earnest, endearing performance from him as we have with Mel “the everyman” Gibson. Second to Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix is also terrific, giving an appealing and empathetic performance. Not for a moment do we see these men as nothing but loving brothers. And finally, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin are magnificent as Graham’s children, aware of the fact that the world they know could be changing forever. The terror on their faces so real, their emotion nothing short of credible.
“Signs” isn’t without fault. It meddles a little agitatedly between compelling suspense, family drama and alien invasion actioner – but when combined it all seems to come together. In some ways though, one wonders whether some of those scares might have been more elongated had the director used the “less is more” approach in relation to the aliens. And unlike The Sixth Sense – which was pretty much sharp as a knife – a few cynics may spot the odd plot hole here and there too.
After he knocked our socks off with The Sixth Sense and treated audiences to one of the more brilliant screenplays of the era, people are expecting the world from M.Night Shyamalan. They won’t get the world from “Signs”, but boy if you’re looking for a truly terrifying, ultimately chilling and rocking good sci-fi yarn, look no further.
Posted on August 1, 2002 in Reviews by Clint Morris
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