Director M. Night Shyamalan is the epitome of the phrase “hit or miss.” His career as a director started off with a well-deserved bang of praise thanks to the blockbuster movie “The Sixth Sense.” 22 years after its release it is still frequently referenced in discussions about movies with surprise endings and twists that nobody saw coming. At the time of its release, seemingly no other film had surprised audiences like “The Sixth Sense” did.
Unfortunately for Shyamalan, his career as a director has been a roller-coaster of ups-and-downs consisting of quality movies and other movies bad enough they make SyFy made-for-TV movies look great! Even casual movie fans tend to flinch or grimace when memories of movies such as “Lady in the Water,” and “The Happening” are brought up. His 2010 butchering of the beloved young-adult fantasy tale “The Last Airbender” is well-known and commonly griped about across the internet, still to this day!
For me, he peaked with 2002’s slow-building and intense drama “Signs.” Borrowing straight from Spielberg’s classic “Jaws,” the movie relies more on what you don’t see than what you do. For some movies that tactic does not work, but in movies like “Jaws,” and “Signs” – movies that are done right – it works splendidly!
In “Signs,” Mel Gibson stars as a former preacher, struggling to come to terms with his wife’s tragic death. Father Hess has lost his faith in God, and is trying to rebuild his life with his two young children (played by Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin) and his washed-up former baseball player brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). They live in a secluded farmhouse outside of a small town in Pennsylvania, and weird things begin to happen around the anniversary of his wife’s death. They suspect neighbor kids pulling pranks, but as things continue to get weirder and scarier, they realize they are caught up in what turns out to be a worldwide alien invasion!
As mentioned above, “Signs” works well simply because of what you do not see. You see the silhouette in the distance of an alien, lit from behind, or the arm or leg of one as it moves in the background. In some instances you don’t see any part of an alien at all, instead only hearing it. This was brilliant filmmaking to me, because who hasn’t stood outside in the dark at some point in their lives, staring into the woods or at a cornfield, wondering what might be out there?
More well-known for his roles in action movies, Gibson is fantastic as the quiet and struggling Father Hess. The viewer feels his pain as he struggles to come to terms with the tragedy that has taken the light from his life. Along with that, he faces the confusion of trying to figure out what is happening and how he can protect his family from further tragedy.
“Signs” can be watched any time, but I find myself drawn to it around this time of year. Something about the cornfield aspect, combined with always enjoying scary movies around Halloween-time, this movie is one of my go-to choices in the fall season.
“Signs” is rated PG-13 for some frightening moments, and has a runtime of one hour and forty-five minutes. It is available to borrow from PPL on DVD.