Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index

SIGNS

Directed by M. Night Shayamalan (2002, Touchstone Pictures)
Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix and Cherry Jones

A family tries to protect itself when signs in their corn fields become the precursor to an alien invasion.

 

 

2+ stars+

September 10th, 2003 on DVD  
   

Very spooky, and while the direction of the scenes was excellent, the direction of the actors was terrible.

I was truly spooked by this movie. The way the scene direction, the music, and the special effects were combined really made this an effective thriller. Everything was very psychological, with very little of the cheap Hollywood thrills.

At first, I was frustrated that we could never see the aliens, but as the movie wore on, I realized that this was part of its charm. It's also a good thing, because the aliens looked terrible. I preferred to see them warped through a glass of water, or reflected in the television screen.

I couldn't believe the wooden acting by all of the cast, but thinking back on The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, all the actors in those movies were also wooden, wandering around in a daze, and with very little passion. It must be the director. While he can direct the scenes in an amazing and thrilling way, he doesn't give the actors the range they need to give a passionate performance. Only at the very end does Mel Gibson break out and shine, but by then, we've had two hours of him looking sombre and completely out of it.

The story is simplicity in itself, with so many things that don't really make sense. However, they don't need to make sense, because of the way the movie progresses. This is one of the times where the plot holes didn't ruin the movie too much, because the characters (poorly acted as they were) were wonderfully written, and the movie was rather effective overall.

Waking up one day (it looks way past morning), Graham Hess discovers circles drawn in his corn fields. After much searching for the culprits, more circles are reported worldwide, and it turns out that an alien invasion has started, with the crop circles used as guides. Guides to what, I don't know. What was so important to the aliens that they needed to make circles in those crops? They found a family of four. If they wanted to harvest humans, surely they would look for a place reasonably well populated.

The entire movie follows Graham, children Morgan and Bo, as well as his younger brother Merrill, as they try to come to terms with the impending invasion. Morgan seemed to have all the answers, as he also believes everything he reads, and the book he bought on extraterrestrials tells him things that are remarkably prescient, given the age of the book. I don't know if the aliens could read minds, but I think it is likely, since the one in the pantry followed Graham home, arriving after its fleet had already left. I guessed it was out for revenge, since Graham cut off its fingers earlier in the movie. Speaking of that alien, it seems very strange that he couldn't get out of the pantry, yet it had arrived in spacecraft that could travel light-years! The ones who attacked the basement at least knew how to break windows, joggle doorknobs, and bang against the door.

The last fight between Merrill and the alien, after it picks up the unconscious Morgan, was a typical ending, except for the discovery that water is like acid to the aliens. That was pretty funny, considering that so much of our planet is composed of water! It's a good thing it didn't rain while they invaded. It's also funny that somebody in the Middle-East figured it out -desert dwellers! I suppose they had to drain all the water from our harvested bodies before dining.

The title of the movie comes not just from the signs in the fields, but from the faith Graham needs to regain. He was once a pastor (not a priest, since they can't marry), but since his wife died, he has turned his back on God, even to the point of denying His existence. But the movie points out that there was a reason for everything.

His wife had to die so that she could get a glimpse of the future, which would save her family. Her final words to Graham (in a flashback) indicated that she knew how to defeat the alien in her living room.

Morgan took everything so seriously so that he would be serious about the book on aliens. He had asthma so that his lungs would not be open enough for the poison to enter. I don't know how true this is, since he couldn't have stopped breathing completely, but since people with asthma can't breathe well, I think it sounds plausible, anyway.

Bo was the cutest thing in the world! She had a strange thing about water, though. I loved her always saying "it's contaminated" after one sip, or, even better "Morgan's amoebas are in it" after he took a sip! Of course, half-full glasses of water were all over the house, so that there was plenty of the stuff to cover the alien when the time came.

Merrill was washed out of the minor baseball leagues, since although he had five ball records, he also had the most strikeouts, since he always swung, no matter how bad the pitch. This means he was good with a bat, but also home for the family, so that he could hit the alien again and again, and smash those glasses of water to burn it's skin (why wasn't it wearing any clothing, anyway?).

So there were signs everywhere, and although some of the signs were doubtful, they were also terrific to see after the fact. I wonder at all of Grahams stories, though. There seem to be a lot of things that he never told his family, from what their mother said when the kids were born, to her last words. He likes to keep things private, doesn't he...

(On a personal note, I always have trouble these days with people saying "there are two kinds of people...", because of a joke I heard once that completes it with "there are those who divide people into two groups, and those who don't", which I think is hilarious.)

The scene direction was the best part of the movie. Since we never see the aliens except for a small body part here and there, until the very end, everything is left to the imagination, like the old days. It was great to see this kind of style. I especially loved when Merrill smashes the only light bulb in the basement with the axe, as he's trying to jam the door shut with it. The darkness really added to the tension.

The extras on the DVD are actually quite interesting. The director is apparently uncomfortable talking for two hours, so we get a half hour commentary in an interview style, with short scenes from the movie, which was quite interesting. I like his dislike of CG animation. The fact that they made those crop circles just for the movie (and indeed grew the corn themselves!) was incredible. It was real, and it looked real. I still think CG animation needs to be carefully controlled (like with Gollum in The Two Towers), rather than abused, as in Attack of the Clones. Things that are real, still look more real than CG does.

 
   

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