By Shawn McKenzie 08/13/2002
Warning! Minor spoilers!
Before I sat down to write this review, I was discussing with a friend how director M. Night Shyamalan has some of the best, most intriguing trailers of the last few years. With 1999’s The Sixth Sense, the curiosity about this little boy who claimed to see a dead person outside his car door brought me and many others into the theater. The trailer for 2000’s Unbreakable again brought me to the theater when I saw the scene of the doctors being amazed at the fact that not only was Bruce Willis’s character the only survivor of a fatal train accident, but that there wasn’t a scratch on him.
Now, with his new film Signs, I got the same curiosity based on the trailer. Unlike The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the payoff didn’t match the trailer. The other films delivered on the promise of their trailers: The Sixth Sense delivered a creepy ghost story; Unbreakable delivered the exploration and curiosity surrounding a superhero. Signs was supposed to creep you out with the possibility of alien life, and while it does delve into that subject, it is less an exploration of aliens and more of an exploration of fear in general. In a way it is kind of refreshing, but you won’t go into the theater expecting it.
What in the world (or otherworld) am I talking about? Maybe telling you a reasonably spoiler-free description of the movie might help answer that question. It is the story of a former preacher named Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) who has lost his devotion to the church because of the tragic loss of his wife in a car accident. He is raising their two kids Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin) with the help of his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix.) One day he discovers some mysterious crop circles in the fields in his farm. He calls out the law, specifically Officer Paski (Cherry Jones), to come out and help investigate the phenomenon. Soon everyone is freaking out and doing weird things like wearing tin foil hats for protection and listening to a baby monitor to hear what they perceive to be the aliens. To tell much more of the plot would give things away, but much less to say, the creep factor goes into its climax after that point.
As I said before, this movie doesn’t really concentrate on the aliens creeping out the humans, but instead concentrates on the fear itself. There are points where you see flashes of the scary thing, and then the movie focuses in on the human’s reaction to it. There is one scene that shows a glimpse of the alien, and then the lights go out and you hear everyone freaking out. This movie makes you concentrate on the fear that the characters are feeling and not what they are afraid of. In fact, the aliens aren’t even the most important part of the story.
The aliens aren’t important? Well, they are, but it could have just as easily been ghosts or serial killers…or generic phobias like the dark or flying. Like I said, Signs is a movie that explores fear, not aliens.
It also gets into areas I don’t feel qualified to explore fully, like religious faith and spirituality. I’ll let other critics explore that.
Other than the religious angle, I just didn’t understand some elements of the movie or how they tied in with any of the themes. Shyamalan isn’t known for having characters that have a quirk which doesn’t have anything to do with the main plot. Everything about his characters usually has a meaning. The daughter Bo has a weird habit of partially drinking glasses of water before she thinks they are contaminated. She leaves half drunken glasses of water all over the house. I know this was supposed to mean something, and someone will probably tell me what after reading this (you can do it yourself on the Entertain Your Brain Message Board on the home page), but I don’t know what that thing was.
I think you will have a reasonably creepy good time at Signs. Just don’t go into the theater thinking you are going to see an alien horror movie! (I recommend the first two Alien movies if you do want to see a good alien horror movie…)
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