Retro Review: Signs

Written: July 30, 2002

What is the actual secret behind crop circles? Is it genetic? Does it have a link to some alien language or symbology? Or is it some huge elaborate hoax?

In the new film “Signs”, farmer Graham Hess begins to witness the crop circle phenomenon occur to his crops. As the circles and symbols arrive strange things begin to happen to Hess, his daughter, son and younger brother (Joaquin Phoenix). The TV and radio reports start to scare his daughter so Hess tries to ignore the world.

Hess used to be a pastor until a crippling event forced him to question his faith. Hess’s brother came to help his brother and family when the event occurred. Throughout the whole events surrounding the circles, Hess not only must re-examine his faith inside himself but also finally face the changing world around him.

Director M. Night Shyamalan, who brought us “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” journeys into new territory with his new film. He brings forth a new look at the old science fiction stories of alien invasion. Instead of taking a “War of the Worlds” or “Independence Day” approach, Shyamalan focuses on what occurs in one man’s mind as this “other-worldly” event transpires.

In his new direction he pays homage to other films in some scenes. The television scenes reminded me somewhat of “Poltergeist”. The corn field scenes where they were using flashlights reminded me of “E.T.”. Basically Shyamalan revisits “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.

There has to be some of the most interesting uses of light, camera angles and human psychology. Shyamalan is a master of these kinds of aspects of filmmaking but I really believe he has found new directions to hone his talent.

I loved Mel Gibson in this film. I loved Mel’s mellow and toned down approach to a conflicted preacher. There is one scene that almost brought me to tears. I could really connect with this character even if I didn’t agree with his logic half the time.

There is a new trend emerging in Hollywood as Hollywood A-list stars are taking on more resilient and conflicted characters. Mel takes on a preacher in this film. Tom Hanks played a conflicted father in “Road to Perdition”. And even Harrison Ford through his hat in the ring playing a conflicted submariner in the groaner “K-19”. I would have to say that Mel’s performance in “Signs” rivals Tom Hanks in “Road to Perdition”. But both of them blow Harrison Ford right out of the water. (No pun intended.) This new trend is an interesting one because as these faces become older they need more seasoned and deep roles. It seems they have found some.

“Signs” is a far cry better than the cryptic superhero-tale known as “Unbreakable” but the film also paves the way for more thought-provoking alien pictures. This is a very intelligent, original and nicely laid out film.

This maybe small and irrelevant but it was nice to see a film that didn’t need hundreds of cameos or characters to keep us guessing. I liked the fact that this film had fewer than ten characters. That was refreshing in itself.

My problem with this film goes to how the film ends. You see after sitting for nearly 2.5 hours you really want the plot to hit a supernova and envelope you. Instead the film drives a moral stake into the final thirty minutes that made me grunt rather than cheer. Then again I did feel the same way with “Unbreakable”.

I also really wanted to know more about this alien threat but the film skirts around that subplot. This is one of the world’s biggest events and you hide in the basement? I found it hard to believe that this is what an average-day man would do. Except for some minor points such as that, I liked “Signs”. It is very effective and creepy but I do wonder if it was only me who felt ripped-off by the ending.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Signs

  1. You hit on my very favorite Shyamalan movie (no, it’s not “Sixth Sense”), probably because the combo of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix — god I love that man — works so unexpectedly well. Both actors really flesh out the damage and pain in the characters, and I can’t heap enough praise on the child actors. The youngest Culkin is brilliant, and Abigail Breslin is, well, Abigail Breslin.

    My only beef is that Shyamalan makes the mistake of showing the alien. Yeah, I know there had to be a showdown at the end, but showing the aliens makes them far less creepy. It almost ruins what the director set out to do.

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