Signs (2002)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin
Plot: A family living on a farm finds mysterious crop circles in their fields which suggests something more frightening to come.

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Awards: -
Runtime: 106min
Rating: PG for some frightening moments.




There is no one looking out for us. We are all alone.”

Much have been said about director M. Night Shyamalan’s decline over the last decade. His output in recent years may have been patchy with films such as Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008), and of course a dud of a movie called The Last Airbender (2010).

But he is still responsible for some excellent films like the underrated Unbreakable (2000) and the popular culture phenomenon The Sixth Sense (1999). My point is that Shyamalan is not a one-trick pony, and I believe given the right material and creative freedom, he will find form in due time because he has the talent to do so.  

Signs, one of his best works, deserves more recognition. It is also misunderstood as a horror film with aliens. Signs is more than that – it is an unconventional film about faith and family using elements of science-fiction and horror to draw viewers into a uniquely presented story.

Mel Gibson stars as Graham Hess, a priest who has left church following a loss of faith after he loses his wife in a tragic accident. His children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), live together with him and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). One day, they discover large crop circles on their farm, and soon mysterious events occur as they try to survive what seems like an imminent alien attack.

Shyamalan’s eschews fast-paced and exciting action for a slower, more suspenseful ride. Signs is never meant to be a blockbuster; it is an intimate look at themes that concern our existence. Faith and family are explored interconnectedly as they shine a light on hope and the will to survive.

That being said, Shyamalan’s film can be regarded as a genuinely effective exercise in suspense filmmaking. There are a few jump scares that are accompanied by the director’s trademark marriage of sound design and music, most evidently in the quite famous ‘Birthday Party’ news footage that continues to chill me to the bone in the umpteen viewing.

Shyamalan has always been a creative manipulator of the camera. Here, together with cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Badlands, 1973; Silence of the Lambs, 1991; The Sixth Sense), he moves the camera around deliberately, almost always in long takes.

He draws much of the tension from his placement of the camera, the use of lighting, and the building up of the film’s atmosphere of unpredictability and dread through James Newton Howard’s creepily brilliant score that echoes Bernard Hermann’s music for Psycho (1960). The final act in the basement and the subsequent climax in the house is a showcase of Shyamalan’s talent as a filmmaker.

Shyamalan even dares to insert a flashback sequence in the climax that ordinarily would have caused massive pacing problems in any film, yet the end result only makes the drama richer, and the characters more motivated to act in certain ways.

Some viewers have derided the film’s ‘twist ending’. All I have to say is that it is merely a revelation rather than a twist. There was a time when Shyamalan’s name was synonymous with ‘twist endings’, the latter often unfairly used as a barometer to judge the quality of his films.

Signs suffered from this when it was first released. Now a decade later, there ought to be a renewed appreciation for the film. It remains to be one of Shyamalan’s best works, and in my opinion, one of the most suspenseful films of the 2000s.

Verdict: A film not about aliens but about faith and family, yet it still remains to be one of the most suspenseful films of the 2000s.


Click here to go back to Central Station.


Popular Posts