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Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
Written by M. Night Shyamalan. 
Starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  8/4/02

As much as I tried, I couldn’t write this review without giving some things about “Signs” away.  So, I would recommend reading this review after you have seen the film.


There is a great movie moment halfway through the new Mel Gibson film “Signs.”  His character, a former reverend, is walking into the kitchen of a house where there might be an alien life form behind a boarded pantry door.  He hears something walking around inside the pantry, and he is apprehensive...but, he takes a deep breath and walks right up to the door, where he sees the shadow of something inside the pantry stop moving.  He looks over at the counter—there’s a knife there, so he picks it up and looks at it...sees his own reflection...and uses it to see if he can see what is inside the pantry.

Now, you just KNOW that he is going to see something.  And, you know that you are going to get the shit scared out of you.  Even though you are trying as hard as you can to not admit it, you can barely breathe...and then, it happens.  A legitimate, everyone-in-your-theater-is-screaming scream.  You just can’t beat the feeling.

Following the lead of many other strong studio films, “Signs” does not disappoint.  In fact, the biggest surprise about M. Night Shyamalan’s film is that it is just a great classic alien film.  When you get out of the theater, you walk out and say “I was waiting for the surprise the whole time!”

And, there isn’t one.  If you have seen the director’s former Best Picture nominee “The Sixth Sense”, or his supernatural comic book tale “Unbreakable”, you spend much of “Signs” waiting, and waiting, and waiting...for something to not be what it seems.  Instead, Shyamalan just imagines a world where alien life forms really might come to Earth and try to take over, and the reactions of these people are what lend “Signs” much of its excitement.  Would it really be the end of the world?  That’s what a small-town Pennsylvania crop farmer (Gibson), his two kids Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), and the farmer’s brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) start to believe, and it just gets your mind whirring about what it might be like to be faced with the prospects that aliens, Martians, or the Predator might try to take over your home.  Some of it is pretty humorous...but, most of it is downright scary.

Gibson gives the film its weight, and Phoenix gives “Signs” the much-needed comic relief in a film that is so tense that you might have an upset stomach if you watch it too hard.  Much like the performance he got out of eventual Oscar nominee Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense”, Shyamalan gets incredible performances out of the children that come to fear the alien threat much more seriously than any logical adult would do.  But most importantly, in a film where there are only four main actors to watch for two hours, everyone is interesting and well-rounded, and you end up caring what happens to them as they unravel the mystery.

It is the support, plus some of the logic behind protection from the unknown, that is problematic in “Signs.”  The director himself plays a role that is much larger than the normal cameos he makes in his films, and if you know that it is him, that is a distraction.  Worse than that, though, is the realism behind it—to be perfectly frank, I think there are about four Indian people in the entire state of Pennsylvania, so when I saw Shyamalan getting into a car early in the film, I was like “Indians in Bucks County, PA?  Bullshit!”  (Of course, I said that in “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”, too, since both are set in Pennsylvania as well—the director is from there.)  Also, once the family figures out what kind of threat they are dealing with, they don’t seem too concerned about protecting themselves—just boarding themselves into their house.  What if the aliens get in?  My friend Max said afterwards, “I thought that all rural houses in movies had a shotgun!”  Shyamalan should be credited for not being stereotypical about this issue, but it would have played along with the film’s reasoning that this family had more than flashlights to protect themselves.

Otherwise, this is a great movie, and a fun ride.  Just don’t go with anyone squeamish—they might rip your arm off during some of the tenser sequences.  I am interested to see if Shyamalan tries something that doesn’t deal with the supernatural next...

Rating:  $9.00 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09