Signs was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who also has a small but important role in the film. Hes best known for his film The Sixth Sense, which garnered critical praise and made tons of dough. Like that film Signs has all kinds of surprises that are barely hinted at in the trailer, so Im going to try and tread very carefully.
On the surface his latest film appears to examine the mysteries of crop circles and suggest a potential tie to aliens. However as is usually the case with his films theres more here than meets the eye. In the broadest sense Signs asks the question, What if there are no coincidences?
Mel Gibson stars as Graham Hess, the only parent of two small children in rural Pennsylvania. Joined by his brother Merrill they work a small farm, with fields of corn that stretch as far as the eye can see. The setting is remote and slightly sinister. When the police are called hours go by before they finally arrive.
To his credit Mr. Gibson turns in a very reserved performance. I was reminded of Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. Mr. Shyamalan seems to have a knack for coaxing subdued performances from larger than life actors. Rather than carry the action forward they wait for the action to come to them and react to it. The result is a more realistic portrayal of men faced with an incredible situation. It also requires more from the supporting cast, who all come through.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Merrill Hess, who has come to live with his brother. A pragmatist at heart, when thing begin to get weird he searches for a logical answer. Later he plays the id to his brothers ego, charging into the night to confront whatever may be waiting for them. Sure hes afraid but he tackles those fears head on. In many ways the hero of the film, his character arc is both funny and endearing.
The Hess children, Morgan and Bo, are both played extremely well. Rory Culkin portrays Morgan, an asthmatic child wise beyond his years who is protector to his little sister Bo. Morgan is the first to be aware that theres something strange afoot. Like Mr. Gibson he also turns in a subtle performance thats a marvel to watch as the tension is slowly, turn by turn, ratcheted up.
Signs is an interesting film. In many ways it feels reminiscent of science fiction films from another generation where much of the action is happening off screen. What makes it unique is the directors willingness to address the issues of faith, fate and religion. These are not the typical themes big summer films trade in. This film was not what I expected; in fact it was much more. Im Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
© 2002 - Erik Petersen - Air Date: 8/7/02
USA - 2002