Signs (2002)

I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I’ll admit to having been fooled by M. Nigh Shyamalan on several occasions. Yes, Sixth Sense was awesome and, being his maiden film, it filled me with a false confidence that all his following films would be equally as awesome. And then you get Unbreakable. And The Village. And, God damn it, The Happening… which makes me livid just thinking about it. It took me months to forgive Mark Wahlberg for that one. And then there is Signs.

Signs

I’ve spoken to a lot of people that hated this just as much, if not more, than some of the films I just mentioned. But I’ve always disagreed with them. I don’t hate this movie. I mean, it’s not one of my favourite films of all time, but I do rate it highly, so if you’ve never seen it or have judged it along with all Shyamalan’s other films, I’m going to just stop you right there and ask you to reconsider, because Signs does have some excellent moments to offer. Maybe if we revisit some, you’ll come around to at least considering my thinking. For those of you that didn’t make it through video one, let’s check out the trailer:

Signs doesn’t try to be scary, it’s really not even much of a thriller. Maybe that’s the reason for the luke-warm reputation it has with the general public. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of a drama and kind of a paranormal alien movie and kind of unsettling and kind of a messy hodgepodge of themes which just seem to slot in together in a way that resembles a Jenga tower. It could all fall apart at any moment, it is your attitude as a believer (or viewer) that keeps the delicate balance of all the plot points together. In addition to always dancing between genres, Mel Gibson is in the lead role and I have no problem admitting that he’s not the most popular man alive. I don’t think he was in 2002, he surely isn’t in 2015. Possibly this plays a part in the enduring attitude towards Signs, who can say. Still, I loved Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon and, even if he is certainly guilty of some high scale douchery in the really real world, we’re not focusing on Mel Gibson, we should be focusing on his character, Graham Hess.

See, Graham is having some problems in his life. His wife has died, which has caused him to doubt his faith and leave his church. Plus, he has a son with some pretty serious asthma and a daughter with an aversion to drinking water (it tastes stale). Oh, plus he’s got crazy neighbours, an odd-ball brother named Merrill and some crop circles popping up in his corn. Did I mention that Aliens are also about to invade the earth and his house?

So yeah, Graham has his task card full. There’s a lot of things that need to be resolved for him in the course of this film, as well as for the people around him and, to Shyamalan’s credit, he pretty much does address everything. Maybe that is the issue here? It’s all just wrapped up a bit too neatly, a bit too quickly?

Unlike The Village, or The Happening (Lord, I get angry just typing that!), Signs does have a beginning, a middle and an end. Sure, the end might be viewed as hastily and easily tied up, but it’s there. Plus, there’s no secretive reveal. You might counter that the ”swing away” is the twist, I don’t know though. (I won’t ruin it for readers who may not have seen this by explaining what “swing away” refers to). Morgan (Kieran Culkin) and Bo (a very young Abigail Breslin) bring a cute element to the plot and also give off a really nice brother/sister vibe and message about loving and protecting our siblings, which also detracts from the short-comings in the story. Also, and this is an important thing, I don’t think this film makes you want to punch someone when it is finished. I, for one, wanted to punch someone at the end of The Village, as well as at numerous points throughout Unbreakable.

The comedic relief in Signs is largely provided by Joaquin Phoenix, (I’m biased on this point, I love the cut of his jib), who plays Merrill, the slightly out of place brother to Mel Gibson’s Graham. I particularly love this scene:


and how is this not endearing

Foil Hats

If I had to identify one thing that has always stuck in my craw about Signs, it’s the whole issue with the aliens and the water. Something like 70% of the earths surface is water… so if you’re an alien being, with enough intelligence to invent space travel, why would you try and take over a planet where there is so much damn water, if you are allergic (for lack of a better term) to water? I don’t know. It’s an intergalactic mystery I guess.

It would be unfair to think too hard on such things within the context of a film, which I guess, is supposed to be about entertainment or the larger question of: what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way. Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

Obviously I can’t answer this bigger question for you. Only you know the secret workings and deep beliefs of your inner mind and heart. If the answer to this question is one that you haven’t pondered in a while though, maybe now is the time to watch (or re-watch as the case may be) Signs.

Seriously, it’s not as bad as The Happening, give it another chance.

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3 comments

  1. ishallakam · September 16, 2015

    I just rewatched this movie the other day, and it was both better and worse than I remembered.
    It was better because I was able to see the movie for what it really is: a movie about faith. The whole movie is about some kind of faith. Morgan’s faith in his book about aliens, Merrill’s faith in Graham, and Graham’s lack of faith in anything. All of that was excellent.
    Where this movie fails for me is that it’s a suspense movie that isn’t that suspenseful. The first half of the movie is about questioning whether or not the signs are a hoax, then you see an alien (which I think was the intended twist, it just came too early), and that suspense is gone.
    The water thing is definitely a problem, though I noticed that the radio mentions the aliens weren’t interested in the planet, just the people, and that some people were taken, presumably as slaves or food or something. That doesn’t fix the water problem, but it does shift the focus.

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    • Racheal · September 16, 2015

      I agree about revealing the Aliens too soon, it would have been far more effective to not even confirm that it was aliens until the end. I also kind of felt like that started something with the Wolfington brothers that never got finished. You hear all these stories about them being a nuisance at the property, but you never see them. Maybe if they’d been attacked by aliens it would have been rewarding, I’m not sure. I do enjoy this movie a lot though, certainly more than most of his others. I see there is a new one coming out soon – but I am not sure if I trust him enough to go and see it. I’ve been burned too many times!

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  2. swanpride · September 28, 2015

    This movie angers me…because in the beginning, it works really well. It builds up an atmosphere of dread very effectively. And then it falls apart and let me tell you, I have way more problems with the idea that the dying wife of the main character predicted in her last words that her brother had to hit an alien at one point in the future because apparently humans are not smart enough to use whatever weapon available to defend themselves…the water, I can handwave that with the idea that the aliens might not have known that they react that badly to water. It would be a minor point if the rest of the movie were good. But you know what would have been a really smart twist? If after all this panic it turned out that there are no aliens, but the humans put themselves in a fear frenzy. Kind of “War of the Worlds” from the perspective of the audience.

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