SIGNS - 2002
Blinding Edge / Touchstone / Walt Disney Pictures
Rating: USA: PG
Of all the wacky things people like to believe in, from Bigfoot to the Loch Ness monster to an unbiased media, the dumbest by far is crop circles. Crop circles are the biggest non-mystery and the biggest testament to human stupidity I can think of.
But! This is M. Night Shyamalan. The press calls him the next Steven Spielberg (although I personally think he's more like the next Alfred Hitchcock). He brought us THE SIXTH SENSE (which absolutely freakin' rocked) and UNBREAKABLE (which sucked if you didn't buy the premise, but which rocked if you did, and I did). If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt it, it is writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan. And now he brings us a movie about: crop circles. Okay.
SIGNS stars Mel Gibson (MAD MAX [all]) as Graham Hess, a widower farmer and former Episcopal priest. Graham and his two children, Bo (Abigail Breslin) and Morgan (Rory Culkin), along with Graham's brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix: 8MM), live on a Pennsylvania farm and are doing their best to recover from the shock of the death of Graham's wife. It was her senseless death in an auto accident that caused Graham to lose his faith and leave the priesthood.
Barking dogs cause everyone to come running to the cornfield where they discover the first crop circle. It's actually a series of circles and other odd shapes but you get the idea.
Now crop circles have been appearing for many years in many places and just because one shows up in a Pennsylvania cornfield is no reason to panic. But it turns out that similar signs have appeared in fields all over the world in a single night. A newscaster points out that if it were a hoax it would require the carefully coordinated efforts of hundreds of people. Still, you'd think a coordinated effort of hundreds of people, while unlikely, would be far more believable than aliens but the public is what it is.
Shyamalan's trademark is the slow buildup of suspense. He does it very well here as life goes on for Graham and his family even though the weird events continue. We meet a variety of other townspeople, most of them insisting on calling Graham "Father", no matter how many times he tells them he's not a priest anymore. Notable among the locals is the man who fell asleep at the wheel one night and killed Graham's wife. The family is in town for lunch and supplies one day when they see him driving the same SUV he drove that night. This man, played by none other than M. Night Shyamalan himself, plays a pivotal role in convincing Graham that a history-changing (and perhaps history ending) event is really happening.
As evidence builds that an invasion of some sort is imminent, it is Graham's children who cope the best. Morgan is a brainy kid who buys a book on UFO's that turns out to be almost a how-to manual for…
But that's giving away too much. Speaking of which, it's time for a very delicate
There is a certain…alien weakness that proves pivotal to the plot. But if you pause to think about it at all you'd realize two things. First, the weakness in question would be ridiculously easy to protect against unless the aliens are absolute morons. And second, having such a weakness makes Earth almost useless to them, which makes you wonder why they bother.
Which brings Mr. Shyamalan to the end of my gracious amount of slack. This is a pretty good movie about 70% of the way, but the ending is a let down. It feels as though the director didn't give it his usual effort and if it were within my power I'd send him back to the studio with orders to try again. I know he can do better.
I give SIGNS three shriek girls.
copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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