Signs (2002): ***½
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MOSTLY SPOILERS, SO WATCH OUT, JACK! GET BACK!
Here's the REAL premise behind this movie: What if a character in a film, only moments away from death, was suddenly able to read the screenplay and warn another character about what was going to happen?
This, truly, is the actual setup behind this film. Not that whole crop circles, aliens invading thing. All that is just what happens in the film. But the dying wife telling Mel Gibson (even though he doesn't realize it) how to win the climax of the movie he's starring inthat's the juice that fuels this great, great movie.
Why do I think that? Simple. Because the wife dies in such an horrible, gruesome death, and who is the person that kills her? Why, none other than M. Night Shyamalan himself! Since M. Night Shyamalan whote the screenplay that kills her so awfully (it is truly one of the most terrifying deaths in any movie I've seen), it only makes sense that he be the one to physically deliver the death as well. Signs is perhaps M. Night Shyamalan's most self-referential film, with a screenplay so absurdly tight as to almost be a parody of reincorporation.
But anyway. Enough of my theories. The film is a near-masterpiece. M. Night Shyamalan is able to whip suspension up out of thin air. Literally! There are many scenes in which you see a seemingly benign sight, but somehow with the sound (or especially the silence) it totally tenses you out. And that's what this film is built around, tension. Nothing much actaully happens in it. It's just the dread of knowing that something could happen at any time, and there's not a damn thing that you could do to stop it if you were in the same position as these characters.
The screenplay is really cool in that it is about a world-changing event that effects every continent on the planet, and yet all we ever get to see or learn about it is what these fairly isolated family members see and learn through news broadcasts and rumors and whatnont. We never cut to other countries or see what anybody else in the world is doing. In most films with this exact plot we would be treated to a grand epic a-la (but hopefully better than) ID4. But that's not what this film is about. There would be no delicious tension and dread in a film like that.
I have to say that I don't like Mel Gibson movies. Or rather, it just so happens that I haven't liked a film that Mel Gibson has been in since Gallipoli (1981). For the most part it's not his fault, though; he's a fine actor. I just haven't liked the movies around him, so I was pretty worried about this one. I shouldn't have been. He's great in this, full of dread and bubbling anger and some really awkwardly funny stuff (like when he's chasing the alien around the house and trying to shout about how angry he is and he cusses, after he comes back inside he says simply, "I cussed." Hilarious).
The reason this film didn't get four stars is because eventually it makes no logical sense. The aliens' plan is just about the dumbest invasion plan in movie history. But that I could have bought. They're aliens, after all; it's kind of scarier that we CAN'T figure out what they could have possibly been thinking with their dumbass plan. The problem is that it doesn't make logical SCIENTIFIC sense. If the aliens are allergic to water, why would they walk naked around a planet whose atmosphere is a good deal water vapor? They would have started dissolving the second they stepped foot off their ships!
But anyway, it's a small quibble at the end of an absolutely fantastic film. A decade from now M. Night Shyamalan will be the next Speilburg. A man so in control of his craft is pretty darned cool to watch.
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