Steven Spielberg. Steven Soderbergh. Tim Burton. And M. Night Shyamalan? Though only known for essentially three films, M. Night Shyamalan is proving to be a name among directors, a nearly box office guarantee as sci-fi and non-sci-fi audiences alike flock to theaters to see his latest picture. Granted his movies have starred Bruce Willis - and now an even more marketable star in the form of Mel Gibson - but there is something about his name that immediately attracts attention, and it probably has something to do with a mild success called The Sixth Sense. Of course, his next entry was Unbreakable, and that one wasn't exactly disappointing either. So, without further ado, here comes Signs...
An intricate pattern suddenly appears in a farmer's field one night. Not so long after, he begins to hear sounds and see things, as if there is something lurking in the dark corn fields. Then the television broadcasts come, that of worldwide crop circles and alien sightings. This does not appear to be a hoax - this is the real thing, a widespread alien invasion. Leave it to Shyamalan to tackle the mysteries of crop circles; he's already done ghosts and super heroes, so why not aliens? And with his approach to movies, you know that you're going to get something other than the graphic-intensive blockbusters like Independence Day; you're going to get something a lot more down-to-earth, creepier and darker, and maybe a lot more mysterious.
Signs, for the most part, is excellent. From the first minute it is creepy, at times scary. Shyamalan pulls the audience right in there with Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin as they investigate the mystery surrounding the crop circles that have appeared on their property. Whether it be a dog, those dark rows of corn stalks, or the slit under a door, Shyamalan attains almost a constant level of suspense, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats, and, at several points through the movie, about a foot in the air. There were several moments where the whole theater jumped, whether they knew something was coming or not. It is that nail-biting tension that really draws the audience in, and then Shyamalan, at just the right time, drops in a fright. Signs is essentially a sci-fi horror movie, but definitely more along the lines of The Others and What Lies Beneath. It is believable and scary, well-planned and well-written.
What makes Signs so good is its originality. Usually, a film about an alien invasion will feature battles, computer graphics, and more. Namely - again - Independence Day. There's nothing wrong with that, but Signs is so refreshing because it is so different. There are no government operatives in this movie, no one that really knows what's going on. The world events are only seen on television, and so it is up to Gibson's character to figure out how everything affects him. Even when Gibson isn't roaming through his corn fields searching for the intruders on his property, the movie is creepy; the television broadcasts themselves are chilly. Signs is believable to the point that if aliens were to attack, it could be like this. If aliens were to attack, we would most likely be sitting at home watching television, watching everything unfold. And Shyamalan takes advantage of this.
Aside from the darkness and creepiness of the film, M. Night Shyamalan continues to churn out good screenplays that help his imagery along. No doubt many of the scenes in the movie are thought out in his mind before he actually writes them, so it is quite impressive that he is consistent in his writing. In Signs he tackles the issues of God and fate, which, I must admit, seemed a little forced at times (the deeper meanings of his other films worked with their respective stories a lot more than in Signs, because, after all, it is essentially a creepy movie about alien invaders), but I'll get to that later. Despite the content, the dialogue is exceptional, allowing the actors to work their magic. Signs has quite an amazing amount of comedy in it, but Shyamalan does it in such a way that it doesn't detract from the suspense in the least. There are many scenes where the audience may jump, and then a few seconds later will be laughing at something a character does. It takes skill to pull off this kind of fluctuating, but it works just fine here.
The only disappointing part of the movie is the ending. Shyamalan is known for his twist endings, but let's face it: You can only do so many movies with twist endings. Actually, by the time Signs reached its conclusions, a twist ending wasn't what I required or need; I just wanted an ending that worked. And here lies the problem. You see, a movie about an alien invasion can be hard to conclude. Since Signs is basically a suspenseful tease, in that Shyamalan never really shows a full alien until the end, a good ending is hard to come by. There can't just be a shoot-em-up scene, because that wouldn't fit with the characters, the story, or anything else. The movie can't just end without showing the aliens, because audiences would be furious. If an alien is shown, it has to be done in a way that causes suspense but lacks cheesiness. If it sounds like I am defending the ending, I am not, but I am giving reasons for it. Basically, Signs cannot have a really satisfying ending. It's just not possible. And it really doesn't have that great of an ending. The alien that is finally shown is not all that impressive, and the computer effects seem a little low-grade. The small twist that the movie takes is somewhat clever but not all that related to the point of the movie, which made me think that Shyamalan was just trying to work in something deeper for the sake of doing something deeper, where as in The Sixth Sense things just came more naturally. However, despite the ending's pitfalls, I must say this: For once, I can forget the ending and just remember the other 95 percent of the movie. The ending is moderately mediocre, but the rest of the movie is exceptional, pure genius. It is scary and funny at the same time, and the suspense never ends.
When all is said and done, Signs is one of the best movies I have seen this year.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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