October 31, 2003
M. Night Shyamalan,
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones, M. Night Shyamalan, Patricia Kalember, Ted Sutton, Merrit Wever, Lanny Flaherty, Marion McCorry,
Signs is Shyamalan’s third major feature film (fourth if you count the fact that he wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little – yeah I couldn’t believe it either! – anyway back to Signs!) It centres on the Hess family, living on the outskirts of Philadelphia on an isolated farm. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is an ex-priest who has renounced God after the death of his wife, and is now a farmer. He takes care of his two children, Bo and Morgan (played respectively by Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin) aided by his younger brother Merril Hess (Joaquin Phoenix) an ex-baseball player.
The film opens with the children having found a crop circle in the corn at their farm. Graham, being ever sceptical, just thinks it’s some of the local kids messing around, while the two children believe that it’s a sign from aliens!
As the film progressed we subconsciously process things that are significant for the now expected Shyamalan ‘reveal/twist’ scene at the end, for instance Bo leaving glasses of water randomly around the house, Morgan having asthma, Merril having been an excellent baseball player who could hit really hard and Graham’s dead wife’s dying words ‘tell Merril to swing away, and tell Graham to see’. All these things are just placed throughout the film, and although focussed on, their value is not fully realised until the last 10 minutes!
More and more crop circles start appearing all over the globe, and it is deduced that they are indeed a map for aliens to navigate by, to locate major settlements around the globe and that all alien ships will be hovering within a mile of these signs. Which spells big trouble for Graham and his family!
There follows an interesting scene between Graham and the guy that killed his wife, Ray Reddie (played here by Shyamalan himself – he always cameos in his films ‘it makes them more personal’ he says) Both Shyamalan and Mel turn in emotional performances as Ray asks for forgiveness for effectively, murdering Graham’s wife. Ray disappears off to the lake, as there’s a theory that the aliens don’t like water, leaving an alien that he’s had an encounter with locked in his pantry. Graham goes to investigate and finds the proof that he needed that aliens really do exist!
There follows maybe one of the best moments of the film where Graham gets back home to find Merril, Bo and Morgan all with tin foil helmets to prevent aliens from reading their minds – the innocent expressions on all their faces are divine! In a last ditch attempt to prevent the aliens from capturing them all, Merril and Graham board up the entire house, and with it being possibly their last night (alive? On Earth?) they cook whatever anyone wants for dinner, but don’t end up eating it as a truly touching family moment occurs, Morgan wants to say grace, but Graham won’t let him (him being a born-again atheist) but they all burst into tears, and join in a family hug. (Altogether now – ahhhhhh!) However, family bliss doesn’t last for long as the sound of aliens approaching disturbs their ensemble, and Merril hurries away to put the last few boards up. Unfortunately they forgot to board up the attic, and the aliens break in through the roof so they’re forced to lock themselves in the basement (that can only be a recipe for disaster – haven’t they seen any other films before!) More emotional moments follow, with Graham reminding the two kids of what their mother was like at the moment they were each born, and they descend into the basement. They shut the door but are assailed by the aliens, who although they can’t get through the door, end up finding the old coal chute that Morgan just happens to be standing by, try to attack him, and end up forcing him to have an asthma attack. The aliens are banished, but Morgan is in a critical state, and of course he’s left his medication upstairs (even though he’s had it in his pocket for the entire duration of the film) so Graham helps him slow his breathing down, all the while berating God muttering ‘don’t you dare do this to me again’.
They survive the night, the radio broadcasts come back on and they venture out of the basement and the aliens appear to be all gone – but are they? Graham puts Morgan on the sofa, leaves him for a minute and then returns to find him in the clutches of the alien he encountered earlier at Ray Reddie’s. The alien proceeds to spray a lethal gas over Morgan’s face, and then suddenly Graham has an epiphany, and everything slots into place, the last words of his dying wife echo down to him ‘swing away Merril, swing away!’. He shouts this at Merril, who grabs his bat and proceeds to batter the alien discovering in the process that the glasses of water left out by Bo are exceptionally helpful as they burn through the alien’s skin. Meanwhile, Graham has carried the unconscious and seemingly dead Morgan outside, administered a shot, and is muttering ‘that’s why he has asthma, it can’t be coincidence, his lungs were closed, no poison got in,’ and surprise, surprise, Morgan wakes up and everything is tied up nicely, with the film ending with Graham going back to the clergy.
I know that I’ve sounded quite cynical and probably not very complimentary about the film, but in fact, I do think it’s excellent, although perhaps a bit predictable. It seems to follow Shyamalan’s earlier formulas of giving you all the clues as he goes along to what the ending will be, you just have to put them together. We know what’s significant in this movie and there are extreme close-ups on the important things, or they’re mentioned about 10 times during the film. Having said that, the film is inventive, the fact that quite often you don’t see the action (for instance in the basement where Morgan is grabbed from the coal chute) and it’s left up to you to use your imagination works extremely well.
The DVD package is not supreme, but not awful either. There are several deleted scenes, most of which have been deleted for a reason, and probably wouldn’t have added anything to the film. However, the last deleted scene (which is about 8 minutes long) adds a bit in to where they first hear aliens entering via the roof, and Merril and Graham go upstairs to try and secure the loft hatch. There is some nice banter here between Merril and Graham, and gives you a bit more insight into their characters and relationship, and I personally feel would have been nice left in – but I’m not the film maker ! There’s also some documentary features basically going from conception of the film, through to filming, to editing and music, which are quite detailed, and if you’re interested in that sort of thing; then they’re very interesting!
Overall, it’s a different, interesting and engaging film, that seeks to deal with the concepts of faith, destiny and extra-terrestrials, and I think it doesn’t do a bad job!