Signs Reviewed

So, we took my parents and Erin's father and step-mother out yesterday to see M. Night Shyamalan's Signs. It was well worth the eight bucks, each, that we paid.

You will know Shymalan as the director of such movies as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and, if you are familiar with these movies, you'll know that Shymalan has gathered a reputation of putting together tense thrillers with twist endings. He is brilliant in his use of colour and he is one of the very few Hollywood directors to understand that those things which aren't seen are far scarier than those things which can be seen.

However, because of his technical brilliance and his tendency to play "gotcha!" with the audience, one can fall into the trap of going through a movie and trying to second guess him. My advice for Signs: don't do this. I spent a fair chunk of the movie thinking to myself things like: "two women in town were caught doing strange and violent things, and now the daughter expresses this weird phobia about the house's drinking water. What does it mean?" or "all the characters are wearing blue. And the movie is shot almost entirely in blue, green and yellow. What does this mean?"

The twist ending isn't really much of a twist, and the character development that turns on this ending, while valid, is still so heavy handed as to come off as a little lame. It's only through Mel Gibson's exceptional acting, and M. Night Shyamalan's technical brilliance that we're able to carry through the final minute. However, this is the only flaw of this movie. I'm not giving anything away by saying that this movie is exactly what it claims to be: an alien invasion flick. Leave the technical brilliance and the subtext to repeat viewings and the video rentals. You will see this movie more than once, and the first time should be given over to the superficial level: aliens are threatening Mel Gibson's family, and you're going to scream. You're also going to laugh. The balance between fear and comic relief is well handled in this movie, and there are some of the most realistic (and funny) depictions of panic that I've yet seen in the theatre.

Another characteristic of M. Night Shyamalan's movies is that he tells a genre story using normal people. Unbreakable revelled in the superhero legends while being a tense study of Bruce Willis' character discovering that he is more than he seems. Signs pays homage to some of the great horror films of our time, especially Night of the Living Dead and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, using characters that could have walked off of Bridges of Madison County. Some scenes are point for point remakes of classic horror moments -- but again, that's something to be left for repeat viewings. On its own, Signs is one of the most frightening movies since Alien; you should go see it with a friend, and you should go see it more than once.


P.S.: Did you know that Signs is M. Night Shyamalan's fourth movie, not his third? His first movie, released a year before The Sixth Sense was entitled Wide Awake and is actually a subtle comedy focusing on a young boy and his dead grandfather, and no bloody corpses in sight. Haven't seen it yet, but it might be worth a look.

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