Signs (2002)

I’m feeling like I’m missing something here. Where was the twist ending that M. Night Shyamalan’s movies are famous for? I didn’t see one, anyway. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing either. See, even though Shyamalan doesn’t always make the best films, they usually manage to stay interesting, as you are always looking for clues regarding the ending. In Signs, you don’t get this same type of satisfaction, and makes re-watching it somewhat of a pointless exercise.

Granted, on the first watch, you can still look for clues regarding some twist; you just won’t find any. I’ll still encourage you to look, as there are other types of imagery used within the film. There are clever symbols hidden throughout, as well as more than a few instances of foreshadowing. Keeping a keen eye out for these will ultimately end up keeping you far more alert than watching the movie will.

I think I went into Signs with the wrong mindset. In fact, almost the complete opposite mindset of what I likely needed in order to enjoy the film. I had believed that it was going to be a film similar to War of the Worlds; one where an alien invasion is occurring. In fact, Signs is incredibly limited in showing off the creatures which are invading the planet. Shyamalan is someone who doesn’t like to use CGI, and instead uses other tricks in an attempt to make us care that life as we know it may soon cease.

Unfortunately, these tricks don’t work in Signs. The aliens, or what we do see of them, are always hidden in shadow, or captured through a blurry “amateur” recording device. We don’t get to see them, meaning the one thing that you want to see from an alien film, the aliens, don’t feature prominently at all.

As a matter of fact, Signs isn’t really about an alien invasion at all. That acts more as the backdrop for the characters, rather as a way to structure the plot. What plot there is ends up being quite little, if almost nonexistent. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is a former priest, one who has lost his faith due to a personal tragedy revealed approximately mid-way through the film. He lives with his children and younger brother (Joaquin Phoenix) on a farm outside of a small town. Soon, they begin to notice strange things are happening, and after turning on the television, learn that there are UFOs above major cities all over the world. The aliens have finally come.

However, this premise gets pushed aside for its characters. Some of these characters are not ones that you wish to spend a lot of time with, and others just don’t get the development they need. Gibson’s character, Graham, falls into the former category. He carries most of the movie on his back, but he doesn’t act like you would think a normal human being would. There is one scene in particular that made me do a double take. He and his brother are sitting on the couch. Graham, being the older one, is asked by his brother to say something comforting in this time of fear. Graham replies with a long story about how there are two kinds of people in the world: Ones who believe that there are coincidences, and people who believe that there aren’t. No “Everything will be okay” or “It’s okay, come here, give me a hug”. Instead, he tells a story in a situation that most people would just give a hug.

But of course, this has a point to it. It’s the same type of point that many of Shayamalan’s films have. There is a message in Signs, one of lost and restored faith. This scene, unrealistic as it is, given the circumstances, ends up being fairly important in regards to this message. Yet, I still can’t bring myself to call this good filmmaking. It makes sense given the overall film, but it just isn’t plausible enough to make you want to believe in the message being preached.

The biggest positive towards Signs, like The Village after it, is the fact that the musical score used is nice. It improves whatever little tension that exists within the movie. It helps set the mood, and isn’t intrusive enough to get in the way. It just kind of sits there, and isn’t nearly as up-front as the message that the film tries to preach.

I almost thought that I missed something after Signs finished. Turns out, I didn’t; there just wasn’t anything there to miss. The most developed character didn’t act like a normal human being would, and despite the fact that Signs was marketed to be an alien invasion film, that’s not what it ended up being. It’s a character drama, one that there isn’t much point in seeing.

1 thought on “Signs (2002)”

  1. All I got out of this review was “I didn’t get the alien invasion extravaganza that I wanted.”

    Dude, it’s a character-focused drama, not a film solely about an alien invasion. The aliens are part of the character arcs. The invasion brings the family closer and restores Graham’s faith in everything. The “There are no coincidences” speech you found odd reinforced these themes.

    Everything ties together beautifully. Morgan had asthma so that he’d be the one who gets grabbed by the alien at the end, and his closed lungs meant he wouldn’t die from the poison gas. Bo’s weird water drinking habits led to their family room being full of glasses of water which ultimately defeated the alien that attacked them. Merrill’s baseball skills allowed them to defeat the alien. And Graham’s wife saying “Swing away” gave Graham the idea of Merrill grabbing his baseball bat, otherwise they might have all died.

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