Director: M Night Shyamalan
Staring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones
M. Night Shyamalan made The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs one after the other. All three were greatly received by audiences and critics alike. He had his own tone and distinctive style that made him one of the more recognisable names in film at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Signs is about grief and a loss of faith. Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson (Mad Max) is struggling to come to the terms with the loss of his wife, who died recently in a car crash. He is raising his two children, with help from his brother, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Joker). The loss of his wife leads Graham, previously a reverend, to lose his faith. There’s some strange events happening on Graham’s farm from crop circles to the dogs acting odd. At first, this is passed off as a hoax, but before long the aliens make themselves known and the family has to prepare for a potential invasion.
Compared to other alien invasion films, Signs is more insular in scale. There’s no real mention of the government and armies fighting back. This is a story about one family trying to survive as long as possible. The majority of the story is set in the farm house, with some scenes in the local town. Focusing so deeply on the family gives you time to get to know them on a personal level, from their past to their odd habits. All four of the main characters are well developed and more dimensional than the usual paper thin characters expected from Hollywood alien invasion films. Shyamalan also takes his time in developing the plot, letting you seep into the narrative and the character dynamics.
All of the performances are great, especially from Gibson and Phoenix. The pain and grief on Gibson’s face is evident throughout and is a powerful performance. The children are all great as well, with believable performances and great characters. The interplay between the characters, especially the way in which the children act with the parents after such a great tragedy is really the soul of the whole story. It’s about survival, but not just from aliens, but everything.
While the tone is dark and it’s grappling with some tough themes, there is also a twisted sense of humour throughout with some absolute laugh out loud moments. From the aliens not being able to open doors, to quips between characters it’s some much needed relief that adds an extra element to the film.
Sadly this is all building up to one of Shyamalan’s weaker twists. It doesn’t feel justified when it finally happens and is really forced. Not everything can be a classic, but the final sequence is a real let down for everything this film builds up over its running time. It’s sticks to the themes, but could have been handled a lot better. However, the moments before the ending are suspenseful and full of tension in all the best way.
Signs may not be the best Shyamalan film, but it’s still an interesting take on the alien invasion genre. It’s more focused narrative lends itself to a more emotional and captivating story, and this is it’s biggest successful. If the ending was better, than this would be one hell of a film.