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Writer and director: M. Night Shyamalan
review by Michael Lohr
If you are going to this movie to see another mindless alien invasion flick with silly jokes and lots of needless explosions then stay home! In Signs M. Night Shyamalan follows up his previous genre-bending modern classics The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable with a very disturbing and emotionally intense journey through one family's struggle to overcome fear and loss. The alien invasion is not the focal of this movie. It is nothing more than a catalyst, a family-bonding event that makes all those involved stronger for surviving it.
Signs is a thriller set in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a rural farming community 50 miles west of Philadelphia. Without warning, a mysterious 500-foot design of connecting circles and geometric lines appear one morning in the family's cornfield. Graham Hess (played by Mel Gibson) is the family patriarch and Episcopalian priest (Episcopalians are a Protestant offshoot of Catholicism), who has found himself in an impossible situation and now is tested by the dramatic and unfolding mystery that surrounds him. It is Graham's struggle with faith, or the loss of it, that captivates the audience as we watch him ebb and flow like the tides. Merrill Hess (played by Joaquin Phoenix - who did such a wonderful portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator) is Graham's brother and a former minor league baseball star, who after the tragic death of Graham's wife, moves in with the family to help his brother cope with raising two children and running the farm.
Shyamalan methodically builds the apprehension, pacing it to a steady boil. From the first frames of the movie you get a sense of dread, the sense that something, somewhere is not right. Signs is a movie that transcends most genre movies due to its character development. The dramatic scene in the cellar when Graham's son Morgan (played by Rory Culkin) suddenly suffers an asthma attack and his father struggles with him and talks him through it, is a scene that sets the entire movie aside from any other alien invasion or sci-fi movie in popular culture. Visually the movie is stunning with landscapes that will remind you of an Andrew Wyeth painting.
If I had one problem with this movie it is that, this is indeed rural Pennsylvania farmland. In America, in all rural areas whether they are in Wyoming, West Virginia or Texas, people hunt and people have guns, many guns. I have relatives in rural Pennsylvania and Ohio with small arsenals of weapons, ready at a moment's notice. Any alien invasion of the type displayed in Signs would encounter massive resistance from the locals. The 'run and hide in the basement' mentality would not prevail in rural America. The 'John Wayne' last stand mentality would. The aliens in Signs were attempting to harvest humanity as a food source. I think attempting to do so in rural America, they would quickly find it a very rough road to travel. Getting their arses plum full of buckshot and lead would be just the first problematic situation they would encounter. I know a man that, in order to keep people out of his cornfields, sat bear traps indiscriminately throughout the field. Imagine your average crop circle maker's surprise if a 10-inch thick steel spike would suddenly spring up and bury itself in their leg. Americans love their weapons... many, many weapons. It is for this reason alone that I believe, that if an alien invasion ever occurred, they would probably go to France instead.
This movie is a wondrous cinematic adventure. The scene sequencing is near perfection and the acting superb. I highly recommend this movie. Nothing is chance; all coincidence means something in the end.
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