Signs (2002)


Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, et al.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Rating: PG-13

Studio: Touchstone

Review Posted: 8.1.02

Spoilers: None

Rating: 4/4


By Dieter Avery.


To be honest, I believe Signs is the best suspense film to come along in a very long time. Not only does the film draw you in, but it creates an event so big, scary, and real that it kind of redefines the 'suspense' genre. Running with about the same pace as Unbreakable and Sixth Sense, Signs manages to create enough suspense so that the final realization leaves you breathless.


Most of what Signs is "really about" has been kept under tight wraps and I congratulate the team behind the marketing campaign for not giving away what "is happening" in Bucks County, PA. Although the newest trailer focuses on the crop circles phenomenon, what their meaning is, and that something "is happening," Signs is much bigger in scale. Its idea and story is much bigger. Its impact is beyond description. No real words can describe the feeling I had when the film closed with the same shot it opening with. M. Night Shyamalan has crafted a film that redefines suspense and the way we look at science fiction.


Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a retired pastor and widow, owns a farm in Bucks County, PA. He wakes up one day to find mysterious crop circles in his field. His brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), and children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), are just as baffled about this discovery as Graham. At first, they believe the circles to be the work of the neighbor's son or a team of "nerds who don't have girlfriends and want to be famous." The mysterious circles begin to trouble each of their daily lives and routines. Bo believes the tap water is contaminated. Their dogs begin to grow aggressive. But it isn't until Graham sees a black shadow on the roof of his house that he begins to question the reality of the situation.


The film, which slowly builds its suspense on new discoveries and identifications, eventually gets to the point where "fiction" is able to blend in with "reality." At no point in the film did I question believability. In fact, Shyamalan creates such an enormous awareness of what is "really going on" that it becomes genuinely scary. I believe Shyamalan was able to pull off such greatness with this film because he carefully planned each character and each situation. Much of the suspense comes from "not knowing everything." The audience is on the same level of understanding and interpreting the situation. They know as much as and as little as the Hess family. Their discoveries are as shocking to us as to them.


M. Night Shyamalan is one cool guy. After seeing Signs, I became to appreciate his talent even more. The guy knows suspense. His mind thinks the unthinkable. He's a great storyteller, Sixth Sense and Unbreakable were fantastic, and proves it again with Signs.


The acting was terrific. Most of the performances, even though there are only a little over a dozen characters, feels real. Mel Gibson was well-suited for this role. In fact, his character has so much emotion. He is dead-on, and that is all you need to know about him. Joaquin Phoenix, even though he replaced Mark Ruffalo late in the game, gives off a great, subtle performance. Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin are perfect.


Now, I chose not to reveal the real meaning of the crop circles in this review. First off, it would be unfair. Second, it wouldn't have the impact here as it does experiencing it in the film. The trailer promises the film will explain the meaning, and it does. The meaning might not be what you think, but boy is it a thrill!!!


Signs, and I have no doubt in my mind, will be remembered for breaking new ground in the genre and challenging "disbelief." It is clever and well thought-out. The suspense and reality the film offers is incredible. An interesting thing to see is what kind of professional praise the film will gain. Perhaps, Signs will even be remembered by the Academy.


The best way to end this review is to say: I loved Signs. I'm thankful of Shyamalan for creating such an awesome film. The film is a ride! It's a thrill! It's an event not to be missed! Really.


Originally appeared in DITA's review column.



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