Director – M. Night Shyamalan
Cast – Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones, M. Night Shyamalan, Patricia Kalember
Release Year – 2002
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This film is my personal favorite of writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan and many agree that this is his last “great” film, as of June 29th, 2009 at least. Once again Mr. Shyamalan delivers an amazing story that is perfectly integrated with the horror conflict of the film. He did this with The Sixth Sense, Signs, and the love/hate films The Village and Lady in the Water, and hopefully will re-introduce this genius in his next horror film after his last failure, The Happening.
Signs follows a former reverend named David Hess(Mel Gibson) who left “the faith”(for reasons later explained in the film) and runs a produce farm with his brother Merrill(Joaquin Phoenix) and two children Morgan and Bo. They one day begin finding mysterious crop circles on their farm and soon begin to realize that someone(or someTHING) is toying with them and residing in their corn stalks. The family then realizes that they are not the only ones at risk as every television channel is tuned to live video feeds of an alien invasion. Much speculation is in the air over whether or not the aliens are friendly or hostile, and the aliens lurking in the Hess family’s corn fields are about to answer that question.
Horror flicks involving the sub-genre of aliens coming to Earth have been done many times before, but M. Night’s Signs manages to interweave a very interesting story with some pretty freaky alien scenes. The development during the first half of the film is simply amazing and uses the classic tactic of scaring you with what you DON’T see, which I find very effective. As the film moves on we slowly see more and more gloom enter the film and watch it take effect on our character’s personalities.
M. Night really dished out some good character development for Mel Gibson’s character David Hess and used this to move the film along at a pace that was not too rushed, but moved quickly enough for the viewer to never lose interest. As we learn more and more of Hess’s troubled past and the reason why he left “the faith” we begin to really understand his character and the conflict he has with the world around him as it’s future looks to only get worse thanks to the alien invasion. Joaquin Phoenix did a fine job as David’s brother Merrill, who moved into the home to help his brother deal with his past. Although Joaquin’s character is serious throughout the entire film he does manage to add more comic relief to the film than any other character, once again thanks to M. Night’s genius writing abilities. I was pretty surprised by M. Night’s use of David Hess’s two young children in this film. Normally when I see kids in horror films(or pretty much films in general) they are useless and only serve as a way to add characters and fill up screen space. In Signs these two children play a very important role in the Hess family’s dealings with the aliens and at times are the only ones acting like “adults”. Haha.
The farm used in this film is a genius location for this film’s plot and provides an amazing atmosphere. The Hess family is on the outskirts of town, leaving them a bit isolated with plenty of corn stalks for the aliens to disguise themselves in. The family’s old fashioned farm home also gives a creepy feel to the film as well with it’s “ancient” design, low lighting, and the fact that it is made entirely of wood only helps the aliens break in even easier. Hehe.
I personally think the look of the aliens is pretty cool but I just wish that M. Night would have opted for live action effects instead of CGI, which some was somewhat realistic given the aliens were actors in green screen suits and not completely computer generated. The ending sequence of the film was pretty cool and made sense of a lot of small elements that I’m sure not enough viewers paid attention to. Shyamalan has a way with doing that to his viewers, and it always makes his films interesting to watch.
There is nothing I really did not enjoy from this film other than maybe the use of CGI for the aliens. Some might say that there was not enough alien carnage, and although that is true to an extent, I believe it only benefit’s the film in the end.
Overall, this is a great film from M. Night Shyamalan during his prime, I recommend this to everyone who wants to see a horror film with a good story and good creepy scenes.
– I ranked this film #27 in my Top 50 Horror Movies of the Decade(21-30) post.