You know, I could make all sorts of puns here about how "the signs say this or that" about this film or its maker, but why bother when I can simply cut to the chase and say that it sucks? No reason I can determine, so here goes: "It sucks."
That felt good.
M. Night Shyamalan's fifth film and his third film since people started giving a crap about what he does leaves me begging the question of why they started at all. I do seem to recall more or less enjoying The Sixth Sense; after seeing this plodding mess of a film, I wonder if maybe I was suffering some serious brain hemmorage at the time that just had me all confused. I'll be honest: Signs was a film I was fully prepared to hate, if only because of the completely stupid "crop circles are made by aliens" nonsense that irritates me enough in real life without it bleeding over into popular cinema. However, I could've dealt with that aspect of it well enough, considering that it only stays the focus of the movie for the first half-hour or so, if everything around it wasn't so deliberately stagnant. The film sort of mopes along and occasionally tries and spectacularly fails to be tense and spooky. After so many loud, hyperkinetic CG-fests of films depicting aliens invading, one might think that a quieter, more personal approach might be a refreshing change. It might indeed be, so long as it doesn't change to this.
Mel "gays, Jews and Non-Catholics can all go burn in Hell" Gibson stars as Father Graham Hess, a man who's suffering from a loss of faith due to the only reason anyone in a movie ever questions the existence of God, i.e. he's tragically lost a loved one, in this instance his wife. One day he runs into his cornfield after hearing his daughter issue a blood-curdling scream at the sight of, you know, some plants lying flat in what must be a very scary fashion, and finds a crop circle on his property. Soon they begin popping up all over the world and before you know it, the aliens are here to creep around at night and climb on the roof and generally meander about as if they had no idea on earth (pun) what they were meant to be doing here.
Showing a huge, globe-shaking event from the perspective of one family sounds good on paper, but in this film it comes off feeling like a student film that just couldn't afford aliens or spaceships and had to leave them out, because it doesn't fill in the gaps with any decent psychological scares. It fills in the gaps with a lot of fundamentalist rhetoric about how non-believers in God are more fearful at heart (Really?) and that there might not be any such thing as a coincidence, which is impossible because my typing of this is coinciding with the running of my dehumidifier; by Shyamalan's "logic," if it happens to shut off after I type a certain word then that's a matter of direct causality as directed by God and not the simple overlapping of two utterly unrelated events. I say bull. The film constructs a series of seemingly random occurences which all come together in the end to save one of Father Hess' children, an apparent miracle that causes him to regain his belief. I for one wouldn't be terribly inclined to give awe and respect to a god which, despite his alleged omnipotence, must work through elaborate Rube-Goldberg contrivances instead of just smiting the damn saucers out the sky like the Old Testament god would've, or for that matter, making it rain. The aliens are apparently extremely vulnerable to water, making the choice of Earth as a target for conquest massively questionable. The other problem with the idea is that every Hollywood flick works out this way, with every little thing previously seen turning out "surprisingly" to be very important. The only difference here is that most films don't try to use this as an affirmation of any god save the author.
In fact, it hardly seems that any god would be needed to fight off these particular invaders, whose plan, it would seem, is to individually break into private residences one by one, without tools, weapons or even clothes, and carry people off. The goddamn Iraq War was planned better than that. The crop circles were supposedly left behind as navigational aids, since this species seems yet to have developed satellite navigation the likes of which is installed in many modern cars, and must instead rely on visual reference points to find their way around something the size of a planet. And we must not forget the ludicrous, self-indulgent deus ex machina used to bring about the key to defeating the aliens, which is simply to have the director himself show up in the film and tell our main character about the water issue totally out of the blue. He departs with the advice that Father Hess not disturb his (Shyamalan's) pantry, since he locked one of these feebly equipped ETs inside. This is of course filmspeak for "please go in there and get attacked," since there's no reason to assume that the ex-minister would've broken into this man's house and burglarized his pantry had the guy just kept his fool mouth shut.
Ultimately, nothing works here. The rambling blather about faith is manipulative and obvious, the little boy has overwritten dialogue and sounds like a pretentious sixteen-year-old, and the scene of Joaquim Phoenix facing down the intruding alien with a baseball bat shot in wide angle while bombastic music plays is so ridiculous it's something I would've filmed as a joke. Someone tell M. Night to get down off his high horse, please, and try to pen a film in which something actually happens. If I want to go to sleep this badly, I'll dive headfirst onto the pavement next time. It would probably be less painful.
-review by Matt Murray