"This is a superlative movie on many levels, and the director, M. Night Shyamalan, proves that he is a force with which to be reckoned. After his blockbuster hit, "The Sixth Sense', the viewing audience expected great things from him. When his next film, "Unbreakable", did not draw the raves that "The Sixth Sense" did, the viewing public anxiously awaited his next film to see if Shyamalan could, once again, hit it out of the ballpark. With "Signs", he confirms that he is, indeed, one of the directorial greats. This film is about many things. It is about loss of a loved one. It is about family. It is about relationships. It is about things that we cannot control. It is about the inexplicable. It is about destiny. Yes, it is most certainly about alien invasion. It is also ultimately about one man's crisis of faith. The film is a wonderful, scary, and amazing film. It centers around the Hess family, who has recently sustained the loss of Colleen Hess (Patricia Kalember) in a terrible accident one night. Wife to Graham (Mel Gibson), mother to Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), and sister-in-law to Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), her death was felt on many levels. Graham, a minister in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was so distraught over the senseless (or so he thinks) death of his wife, that he left his ministry and is now living a purely secular life with their children and his brother, Merrill. Graham simply cannot understand why God has seemingly forsaken him. The death of his wife has divested him of his faith, and he finds himself struggling in the world without it. One morning, Graham discovers crop circles in the cornfield in front of his house. Other strange things begin to happen, all while he is trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in a world that has suddenly changed in a way that he could never have envisioned. Worldwide, crop circles are mysteriously appearing, seemingly strategically, and, before one knows it, alien invaders are here. They are creepy. They are scary. They do not come in peace. The focus of the film is not so much on the alien invaders, however, but on how the family responds and interacts in this time of crisis.There are some very frightening scenes in this film. They are all the more frightening for what one does not see rather than what one does see. There are some aspects of "The Blair Witch Project" at work here. Shyamalan certainly understands the concept that less is sometimes more and uses it to great effect. The effective use of tension by the director is one of the great strengths of this film. Sly, subtle humor is also used to great advantage. The other important component of the film is the acting.There is not one bad performance in this film. Shyamalan, who normally gives himself a brief cameo in his own films, gave himself the part of Ray Reddy, the man who was the catalyst for the tragedy that enveloped the Hess household. He gives a more than credible performance. Abigail Breslin is simply delightful as little Bo, a child too young to fully comprehend what is going on around her, but who, nonetheless, reacts to its shifting permutations. Rory Culkin (yes, Macauley's younger brother in real life) gives a wonderfully intense performance as Bo's big brother. A somewhat singleminded child, he immediately becomes a believer in extraterrestrials and tries to gain an understanding on his own of what is to come.It is Mel Gibson, however, along with Joaquin Phoenix, who ratchets up the ante. Mel Gibson gives a beautifully nuanced and sensitive performance, playing it totally straight with occasional flashes of humor. It is a performance of a conflicted man who cannot bear what has happened to him and does not reach an understanding until it is almost too late. In the end, he is able to see how some of what has happened to his family has had a semblance of a greater design. Even his wife's last words to him, so seemingly meaningless before, grow rich with meaning at the end. Joaquin Phoenix is one of the younger generation's most talented actors. He infuses the role of Merrill with a vulnerability that is, at times, heartbreaking. Yet, somehow the viewer knows that the Hess family can count on him to be there for them one hundred percent. While he is not so conflicted as his brother Graham, however, he seems to need validation. As the film barrels towards its climactic ending, scenes leading up to Colleen's last moments are woven throughout the film. This serves to show the viewer that the events of the present have meaning when grounded in the context of the past. It will come full circle in the end. This is a wonderful, beautiful, suspenseful, and scary film that is well worth seeing, and I eagerly await release of the DVD."
Masterful Low-Key Horror
General Zombie | the West | 02/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It's interesting, I'd always liked this movie a lot, but watching it again after a 3 year layoff I finally see just how extraordinarily well done this is. I've watched a helluva lot of horror movies in the past 3 years, and watching this again I really see how it's on a completely different level from the vast majority of them. When it comes to creating a slow rise in tension and simply inserting the supernatural into the apparently real world 'Signs' has few peers. This relates to a small flaw, perhaps: Once we get to the climax, once we've seen all there is to see, the reality proves a little too mundane. But, the strength of the journey itself more than makes up for this slight anticlimax. This is definitely one of the very best horror movies of the new millenium.
I've heard some complain that the film lacks sight of the big picture due to its exclusive emphasis on the central family but I think that's what really makes it work, what really makes it real. After all, who cares about the big picture? We don't experience the world as a city or nation, we do it as individuals. That and it just allows us to really get to know the characters, and for Shyamalan to create full, real characters rather than just having a pack of cliches in various cities spread out across the nation. (Like you'd see in something like 'Deep Impact', for example.) Phoenix and Gibson are both absolutely great in this film, particularly Phoenix. Gibson's Graham is a little to cold and distant for us to relate to him initially, so we really connect with Phoenix's Merrill first, though I definitely came around to liking Graham as the movie went on. They're both utterly naturalistic, and manage a real severe intensity in the most emotional scenes while still avoiding any histrionics. The two children, Culkin and Breslin, are fine. I'm always leery of children having prominent roles in movies, but Shyamalan largely avoids sentimentalizing them excessively (Morgan is kind of a whiny dork) or earning cheap audience identification. (In the scenes where the kids are in the greatest peril I identified far more with Graham then with the children themselves.)
Certainly, this won't be to everyone's taste as it is extremely low key up until the very end. And I don't mean this simply in the sense that it isn't violent or gory; that's true of a lot of modern horror films. The film simply refuses to show you much of anything through out the vast majority of the run time. There's a lot of noise related horror, obviously, and it goes light on the jump scares. (More amazingly, some of these scare tactics were actually surprising. Even after having seen it a couple of time before a few years back a couple of these were slightly surprising.) The film uses a particularly classic setting, the old siege on the farmhouse a la 'Night of the Living Dead'. Again, the primary siege is just so impressive because it manages real intensity despite the fact that they show you virtually nothing. The true climax is less effective, but it's still fine and is necessary from a thematic standpoint. Many people have complained about the `twist' in this film. I've got some news for you: This movie doesn't have a twist. Morons.
In the end, however, it may be the human element that really makes this movie standout. It's just a very tragic portrait of a family that has largely fallen apart. I'll admit it, it probably goes a little to far a couple of times, but it also manages a few genuinely moving scenes, which more than compensates. (Particularly note the great scene of Graham and Merrill discussing fate late one night, and Merrill's confronting Graham after the invasion night and so on.) As I always say, I don't really insist that my movies have realistic or likable characters, but the very best ones usually do. And 'Signs' has got that. Furthermore, Shyamalan's dialogue is generally leaps and bounds beyond what you usually see in a horror film, and it's also really quite funny much of the time.
I've heard a lot of morons complain that the aliens here don't behave in a realistic fashion. I had a long-winded rant worked out in my mind, but these people aren't gonna be convinced by that, or anything, as a matter of fact, so I'll just keep it simple: It's absurd to claim that the aliens in this behave in an unrealistic fashion because we, the viewer, don't know anything about them. There are an infinite number of potential explanations for why they act as they do, and 0 reasons to believe they would behave any other way. Any supposed logic you may have come up with relating to the aliens is irrelevant, because they are wholly of and within the movie. And perhaps more to the point, this comes with the territory. Complaining about the aliens in this film is like complaining about how hardly anybody has any guns in a contemporary martial-arts film.
Yes this is a great film. Definitely Shyamalan's best in my mind, as of this moment.
Don't read these reviews if you haven't seen the movie
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm glad I saw this movie at the theatre without anybody revealing the plot and resolution to me beforehand, which is what many inconsiderate reviewers here have chosen to do. Do yourself a favor. See the movie without reading about it or asking other's opinions. Form your own opinion after having seen it and, if you enjoy it, simply recommend it to others without explanation. Obviously, many of the people who panned the movie expected something else. They criticized what they saw as shortcomings when the movie wasn't about the shortcomings, but about something more. Yes, I enjoyed The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but my favorite movie of the three is perhaps Signs. There is a character depth that had not been plumbed as deeply as in the previous two. I'll admit, the story was a only a slightly bit contrived (hence the 4.5 stars instead of 5), but suspend your disbelief and the entire story falls into place. And who says it could not have been any other way?"
Scary and Frighteningly Realistic
Michael Pappalardo | Ronkonkoma, NY United States | 12/31/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In an age where action movies with over the top explosions and death-defying battles with manevolent extraterrestrials in spacecrafts the size of planets or mind-numbing shoot-outs with druglords and cyborgs are too commonplace, M. Night Shyamalan's Signs is a terrifying and welcome return to the roots of what made movies of this type so great in the past: tension and fear.A small-town Pennsylvania preacher loses faith and becomes a farmer. One of his children develops a bizarre habit with drinking water. His dogs start to become frighteningly agressive, as if some sort of predator were on the loose...Just remembering the scenes of this movie give me the chills...a clear indication of how well Shyamalan's film-making and direction steer this movie in the direction of utter terror. Mel Gibson is superb in his role as a preacher turned farmer who slowly begins to realize that all is not so well in this small countryside Pennsylvania town. When a number of bizarre occurences, and an unforgettably terrifying encounter both outside his daughter's bedroom window (which is giving me goosebumps just thinking about it) and in his own cornfields in the middle of the night sends his family and other locals into a paranoia fit, he must contend with his own inner struggles and beleifs to help guide his family through this terror.Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the film is that it is so realistic. The events and occurrences on the film never go beyond unbeleivable...they are all very down to earth(no pun intended) and rational. People who fear or are generally frightened by the thought of alien invaders will be completely terrified by the film's basic yet beleivable events. Unlike most alien invasion type films, Shyamalan opts for a seemingly forgotten key in film making: Less is MORE. Like the Ridley Scott classic Alien, Shyamalan plays more on fear and emotion rather than visual effects. This may disappoint some, but for most people who see this movie, including myself, it helps to convey a poignant and moving story while keeping you on the edge of your seat with your heart racing and chills running down your spine. And as with most Shyamalan movies(namely the Sixth Sense), Signs has a message to convey to the audience and has a basic principal to the entire premise.Overall, Signs stands out as one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen. It is so basically beleivable that one may lose sleep after seeing this film. By all means, don't watch this film alone, and don't be embarassed to be frightened by this film either...I sure was, and all others who i've asked said the same thing: Its so realistic, that it's just terrifying. M. Night Shyamalan does it again...Signs is a must-see movie for any suspense/horror/sci-fi fan or alien afficionado. Don't pass it up!"
Movie Totally Surprised Me
R. Schneblin | CA USA | 03/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"War of the Worlds had great special effects but drove me crazy with bad character development and irritating, disrespectful kids. I can understand why they were like that, but it grated on me throughout the movie.
Signs, on the otherhand, went the opposite way. Very little special effects, but far better character development. You cared about the people so that when they were under threat, you wanted to jump into the movie and protect them. The overall theme of the movie is that there is a reason for everything--even disabilities and tragedy. This is a very difficult concept to portray and I have to hand it to writer/director Shyamalan for giving us something different than the average "scary UFO" action flick. This movie had true substance and ventured into topics and subjects that the typical Hollywood movie lacks."