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Signs (2002)
 
   
 Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
 Starring: Mel Gibson/ Graham
Joaquin Phoenix/Merrill
Rory Culkin/Morgan
Abigail Breslin/Bo
     
RATING

PLOT-CRUNCH:


Ex-preacher and widower Graham (Mel Gibson) lives in the country with his family. When an odd set of “crop circles” appears in his cornfields, it sets off a chain of events that eventually puts his life and his loved ones at HUGE risk. Let the fear fiesta begin!
  

THE LOWDOWN:


On very rare occasions, witty remarks and analogies to shameless knob-licking hookers are just not enough for me to INITIALLY describe how I feel about a particular movie. This, my friends, is one of those times. So I decided to start this review with a simple, yet, to the point statement:  “I truly loved this film”. I know the line is not funny, alcohol related or raunchy but what can I do? The pervert boozer in me just isn’t talking right now! So here it is again, in case you didn’t catch it on its first run: I TRULY LOVED THIS FILM.

"Signs" is a well written, masterfully directed and expertly acted genre treasure that brought much more substance to the game than I thought it would. In plain English: It has everything you’d want from a movie and then some. It begins its quality streak by dealing us fleshed out characters and the genuine/touching relationships between them. I truly got attached to these fine folks, especially Graham (Gibson) and his poignant state of being. I even shed some bloody tears on my popcorn at times! Now when The Arrow cries, it’s either sad or Larry Clark is doing another horror movie. In this case...it's SAD!

On the flipside, the flick is also surprisingly very funny! I really didn’t expect to chuckle coming in to see a M. “my movies are depressing” Shyamalan offering, but I did! The dialogue is witty to say the least and the bang-on actors made it all happen with their honest delivery and engaging chemistry. Actually, the humor really worked in the film’s favor and upped the “horror” ante. On many occasions, I found myself feeling comfortable and appeased by the sharp repartee but just when I thought everything was safer than a nun in a strip joint…BANG…the flick would a drop a “fear” bomb in my lap and scare the living shite out of me. THANK YOU FOR THAT!

Which leads me to the film’s horror elements. Now I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll be at my vaguest and refer to the main going-ons as “the event”. “The event” has been tackled many times on celluloid in the past but no film has ever equaled "Signs" when it came to communicating the SHEER terror of how it would feel to live that situation FOR REAL. “The event’s” strong impact was due to two factors in my opinion: Unos) It takes place in a self-contained environment with a handful of people that I was allowed to get attached to, therefore be silly scared for. Dos) Shyamalan takes a minimalist approach to “the event” that worked like Anna Nicole Smith on a 92 year old man. He not only lets our wild imagination fill in the blanks but when he does show us something, MAN, IT KICKS YOUR ASS! The “less is more” rule was never more true than with this film. There are some truly chilling moments here and I for one felt a real sense of “uneasiness” for the most part of the running time. God, it felt good to wiggle in my seat in cum-inducing fright again!

And then there’s the ending. In true Shyamalan form, the finale once again brought the whole of the film an extra layer that I gobbled up whole like “Pac-Man” on a munchies spree. Have you ever felt a rush of goosebumps travel through your body in an awesome wave while watching a flick? Well, I felt that sweet juice during the cap off FULL FORCE! Tag to all that, the film’s competent tackling of heavy emotional themes such as “faith”, “coincidences”, “love”, “God” (yes, him again) and the “human condition”, some limited but gnarly visual effects, various creepy settings and a score that will raise the hairs on your testies and you get one of the top genre films of the year. Follow the signs dudes and dudettes, they lead to a scary and fulfilling place.
    

ACTING:


Mel Gibson (Graham) proves once more that he’s an awesome actor. He plays against type here and reeled me in with his wide display of emotions. Talk about focused! GREAT STUFF MEL! Joaquin Phoenix (Merrill) is also on the ball here and his delivery is impeccable. He be funny! Rory Culkin (Morgan) does what he has to do and does it well. Abigail Breslin (Bo) has to be the cutest little girl in the world, she actually made me think about having kids one day and that is a feat in itself.
 

GORE:


We get cut off fingers and other minor goodies that I won’t mention in fear of giving anything away. Gore isn’t this movie’s “raison d’etre” though.
   

T & A:


We get naked cornfields, you getting aroused yet?
   

DIRECTING:


Staying true to his previous films, Shyamalan plays it subtle, uses momentum like a champ and sure knows how to toy with an audience. I loved how he set up scenes and always brought them to the next unsuspecting level. Add to that, some stylish shots, an effective way of utilizing silence, some hard hitting “boo” scares, a groovy way of milking his dark locations and a firm handle on suspense...and you get a potent genre left hook.
   

SOUNDTRACK:


The score by James Newton Howard is mucho spooky and I really dug “The X-Files” flavor it put out. Very impressive!
   

BOTTOM LINE:


"Signs" handed me everything I needed for an exceptional night out at the movies. The writing is excellent, the directing genius, it made me laugh, it made me cry, it gave me the tingling creeps and it scared the smut out of me. What else do you want in your back-pack? Like really, WHAT ELSE? With "The 6th Sense", and "Unbreakable", Shyamalan showed us that he was a filmmaker to be reckoned with. With this new entry, he solidifies his position in the ranks of mature "horror" filmmakers. Take this review as a SIGN and see this movie.
 

BULL'S EYE:


Mark Ruffalo was originally cast as Merrill but had to bail out due to health reasons. Joaquin Phoenix took his place.

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has a small part here.

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The Way The Arrow Points...

   
 I’d BUTCHER my family to see this again
 HANG me but I dug it a lot
 An ok way to KILL two hours
 Just sling an ARROW in my head and let me die in peace

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