Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, Rory Culkin,
by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by: M. Night Shyamalan, Frank Marshall, Sam
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
03/08/02 UK: 13/09/02
York Post, Washington
Night Shyamalan's new feature film, SIGNS is a thriller
set in Bucks County, Pennsylvania focusing on the mysterious
appearance of a five-hundred-foot design of circles
and lines carved into a family's crops. Mel Gibson stars
as Graham Hess, the family patriarch, who is tested
in his journey to find the truth behind the unfolding
mystery. Joaquin Phoenix is Merrill Hess, brother to
Graham and a former minor league baseball star.
Boston Herald, USA
Gibson harvesting the corn in Signs
BORE OF THE WORLDS
In the movie dictionary M.Night Shyamalan
falls between Ridley Scott and Stephen Spielberg. Believe
me, in twenty years time, he will be lucky to be a footnote
if he carries on like this.
It all began when Mr. Shyamalan had a monster hit four
years ago with The Sixth Sense. This sombre, rather tedious
movie was redeemed in the last five minutes with a twist
that caught the general viewer by surprise. Sixth Sense
made billions and appears to have given Mr. Shyamalan
a head bigger than the crop circles that form the centrepiece
to this corncob-fisted example of movie-making.
It also seems to have given him the power to steamroller
through anything he wants. Right up front in the opening
credits we have the major problem here: Written,
Directed and Produced by M.Night Shyamalan. No-one,
it seems, can stop this thirtysomething who seems to think
he's the next Spielberg. In your dreams mate. The man
is an exemplar of the Emperor's new clothes. There's simply
nothing worthwhile here - and as yet, few people have
the guts to shout this from the rooftops.
If you thought Unbreakable was pretty unlikeable and unwatchable
(as I did) then Signs drops below that pavement. It's
so bad and boring on so many levels it's difficult to
know where to begin.
Big star Mel Gibson seems as good a place as any. Mel
plays melancholy... a vicar (if you can buy that!) who
has lost his faith after losing his wife to a senseless
auto accident the previous year. That makes the 'heart'
of the movie Mel's incredibly tedious search for rebirth
and a re-affirmation of his faith.
Well give us a break sir! The whole planet is apparently
being ravaged by land grabbing aliens. But we never see
this action as Mel and the audience only gets the breaking
news via TV and Radio news reports. And these are so badly
executed, one assumes Mr.
Shayamalan has never
seen a cable news broadcast. Try watching Fox next time
to see how it's done.
But back to Mel's search for faith. In the hands of a
Spielberg or even a Scott, this is the subtext that drives
the character. It would be hinted and alluded to. The
audience would pick this up gradually because it would
not be hammered out with the subtlety of a huge wart on
Apparently Mr. Shayamalan eschews subtext as he has Mel
spending two hours telling everyone who will listen, including
his two young kids, the checkout girl, his brother, the
cop, the vet, the dogs... possibly even the housefly...
that he has lost his faith.
The child actors are, by the way, absolutely superb. It's
just a pity they are exploited so shamelessly by the writer,
producer, director. Lull in the plot? Put a kid in harm's
way. Need a twist? Give one kid a recurring deadly ailment
that will save him in the end. (That's the BIG twist by
the way.) This movie must have more clichéd lengthy dialogue
of any in recent history. I've been to Shakespeare plays
with less yacking and more action.
This is because Mr. M.Night Shyamalan reckons he can get
away with breaking a cardinal rule of movie making - show,
don't tell. Boy, does he tell. And tell. And then, when
you scream at the screen, for God's sake shut the hell
up, he tells some more. His characters tell us what they're
thinking. They tell us what they want. They tell us what's
going on. They tell us what we should be thinking. On
and on and on.
Okay... let's get serious and get to the money shots,
this is why millions of us punters go see the blockbuster
on a Friday night.
So... where are they one asks? The
scares are the type arty reviewers praise for being 'old-fashioned'.
In other words, not very scary at all. A few doors rattling
as the Aliens make feeble attempts to pry their way in.
A clawed hand being poked out from under the door. A leg
disappearing into the corn. I've seen more scary effects
on Doctor Who - and with better scripts. Truly pathetic.
Alien is the template of how to scare the pants off an
audience by showing fleeting glimpses of the monster.
Signs is the template of how laughable a man in a monster
suit can really look. One of the characters even says
what the problem here is: the Aliens seem to have difficulty
opening pantry doors. Ooo that's sooooo scary.
Oh... and big climactic ending, a tribe in Papua New Guinea
'discovers' that they are killed by water. Now maybe I'm
missing something here, but you'd think any Alien capable
of traversing millions of light years may have the nouse
to know that our planet is seven-eigths water. And that
despite global warming, it does actually... ahem, rain
on a regular basis. And hey, you bug-eyed creeps... spacesuits,
ever heard of them?
What's worse for me is that he rips off so many other
movies - and not in a good way. Unlike Scream which cleverly
references the movies it spoofed and still remained scary
by upping the ante; Signs is demonstrably inferior compared
to its back catalogue. In no particular order we get 'Close
Encounters Of The Third Kind', 'Night Of The Living Dead',
'War Of The Worlds', and 'Alien'.
So if it's Friday night and you want to see a good movie,
do yourself a really big favour and rent those far superior
flicks instead. Or go see Eight legged Freaks.
is Shyamalan's third Philadelphia-set genre buster; The Sixth
Sense shook up ghost movie conventions, Unbreakable was a
wholly original superhero adventure, this is an alien-invasion
thriller unlike anything you've seen.
Since his wife's death, Father Graham (Gibson) has lost his
faith and holed up on his farm with his two kids (Culkin and
Breslin) and his brother (Phoenix). Now six months later strange
things are happening, patterns in the cornfields, creepy noises
on the radio, frightening news on TV. All of it points to
the fact that aliens are about to invade the planet. But will
they be friendly or not? And how will this shake Graham's
already shaken world?
Without ever touching on a cliche (except to poke fun at it),
Shyamalan skilfully builds the film on several layers--personal
redemption, family drama, community-in-crisis, world on the
brink. There are so many things going on in this film that
it can't help but hook us completely, which makes the tension
nearly unbearable when it finally arrives. This is gasp-for-breath,
hold-onto-your-neighbour cinema, expertly written and directed,
never relying on special effects where a more effective old-style
jolt will do. In fact, the effects are so underplayed that
you don't see them at all.
And Shyamalan wisely undercuts everything with humour and
quirkiness, keeping the story anchored in reality. We laugh
a lot, because it's funny ... and because we're just as terrified
as the characters. This is clever, mind-bending stuff. But
the film is just as effective when it examines the internal
belief systems of this frightened, fractured family.
Both the script and the cast are well up to the task--we understand
what they're feeling and thinking, and their journeys are
powerfully moving. This is one of those rare thrillers that
takes us intimately along for the ride. But don't expect a
standard Hollywood blockbuster. Thankfully, Shyamalan seems
incapable of playing by the rules.