Signs (2004) / Thriller-Sci FI
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some frightening moments
Running Time: 106 min.
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Aibigail Breslin, Cherry Jones
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Review published July 9, 2002
Signs is a tough review for someone who doesn't employ spoilers, so forgive the lack of specifics in the review -- I'm doing it for your own good. After watching the twisty yet somber thrillers The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, we've come to expect tense, ambient chills with the ironic ending from M. Night Shyamalan. If there is a twist at the end of Signs, I won't say either way, as just knowing that there is or isn't one detracts from enjoying what is an effective, atmospheric nail-biter. Signs may be one of the scarier movies in recent years, and all credit should go to Shyamalan for evoking hair-raising moments without the need for gore and violence. Instead, it's fear of the unknown that gets the blood pumping, and Signs is directed in a style that shows us as little as possible, and we are all the more afraid because of it.
Mel Gibson (What Women Want, The Patriot) plays Graham Hess, who six months ago gave up the collar of priesthood when his wife died in a tragic accident. No longer believing in a greater power, he begins to suspect there might be other powers he didn't know about when crop circles appear in the corn fields of his Pennsylvania farm. It seems the circle isn't the only one, as the news reports are showing them all over India, and later all over the world. Are they signs of alien life or merely a hoax?
Signs is one of those thrillers that will ultimately let down some viewers because the set-up is so riveting and mysterious. We are drawn to the screen, never seeming to be able to take our eyes away, as we believe anything is possible, and we wait for this incredible build-up of tension to pay off with a cataclysmic ending. Some viewers may feel dissatisfied for the simple reason of misguided expectations, wrongly thinking Shyamalan's film is about aliens and the meaning behind the crop circles. Instead, it is a journey of one man with his own faith and convictions, and the movie as a whole finishes the journey it started with success.
Signs is a slowly moving, but wholly absorbing thriller, and another worthy piece of the M. Night Shyamalan oeuvre. Well-directed in its subtle fashion, brilliantly acted by Gibson and Phoenix (Gladiator), and a unique concept for entertainment without need for explosions and special effects bonanzas. Signs is recommended for fans of the director, stars, and other worldly thrillers. It is not recommended for the Independence Day crowd that wants to see lots of action and explosions in their sci-fi, and some may feel let down by a film that doesn't have a conventional climax. However, Signs does entertain throughout, and when the scene calls for creepy chills, it doesn't come any chillier. All signs point to another winner for Shyamalan.
©2002 Vince Leo