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Signs (2002)
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Review Date: July 30, 2002
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Producers: M. Night Shyamalan
Actors:
Mel Gibson as Graham
Joaquin Phoenix as Merrill
Rory Culkin as Morgan
Plot:
A man who loses his faith after someone close to him tragically passes away, must now face the creepy unknown as cornfield crop circles and strange apparitions suddenly sprout up around his countryside home. His little brother, son and daughter also join in on the confusion until they all turn on their TV set and discover that...well, I'll let you watch the movie and find out for yourself. Me no likey spoilers.
Critique:
The streak continues. M. Night Shyamalan continues to astonish as the modern day "master of suspense" with yet another original, chilling nail-biter which pulls you into its claustrophobic aura with detailed emphasis on one tight-knit family during one unfathomable worldly event. With its awesome teaser trailer not giving much away and providing just the right amount of creep, Mr. Shyamalan once again manages to bring fright to the forefront, while sewing together an emotional tapestry of characters, all of whom bring resonance and believability to their respective roles. Mel Gibson is at the top of that list, with an excellent performance as a man who loses faith in his...well, faith, but continues to fight to hold his family together despite his many emotional ups and downs. I don't think I've ever seen this dude as moving or teary as he was in this flick, and the same can pretty much be said about myself (yup, I teared up like a beeyatch once or twice). But before you think that this is a tearjerker, let me set the record straight: this film doesn't belong in any "one" movie category.

It's a very well made amalgamation of themes from different cinematic corners, including comedy, of which there is an ample amount, suspense, which is the film's strongest attraction, horror, with a decent amount of "boo" scares as well as eerie apparitions and science-fiction, which ultimately underlies most of the film's proceedings. And a lot like his previous films, THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE, this is one of those movies that you really should see without much prior knowledge, since part of the fun is in the methodical unraveling of its mystery. The film also plays extremely well with sound, has a quick pace and short runtime (much less than I expected) and basically pushes you right into the "action" as soon as it starts. It also boasts one of the more basic, but extremely cool, opening credit sequences of the year (definitely a touch of Hitchcock there) and delivers the catchiest score this side of THE X-FILES. And as each member of the family is slowly given a personality, a background and a "raison d'etre" of their own, we as an audience, are simultaneously pulled into their world and circumstance, and ultimately invested wholly into their fate and terror. All of which make the film's sprinkled suspense and thrills that much more engaging.

Having said that, I can see how this flick might not interest everyone, since I too wanted to see a little more about what was happening in the rest of the world as the story unfolded, but ultimately came to realize that it wasn't about the bigger picture as much as it was about the smaller tale within the greater unimaginable circumstance. And as impressive as Gibson was, Joaquin Phoenix was also a blast to watch as the funny brother ("Swing away!", you bastard!), Culkin ideal as the nerdy son and Abigail Breslin, unbelievably adorable as the daughter with the strange relationship with water. In fact, it was the camaraderie, the bond and the chemistry between these four characters, as well as the tightly wound script written by Shyamalan himself, that made the film that much more engrossing. Is the ending as "out of this world" as in his previous flicks? Definitely not, but it did provide for a perfect connection to the rest of the story, despite its facile resolution to the film's core issue. It's not your typical summer fare with a whole bunch of wham-bams and thank-you-ma'ams, but if you're looking for yet another Shyamalan movie directed with his usual straight-forward but exact style, you will most certainly be entertained with the giggles, the creeps and the screams within (the birthday party videotape is cree-eepy!). Oh yeah, and for anyone averse to anything with blood, guts and gore...no probs, this flick has none of that. Just like many other great filmmakers, Shyamalan has mastered the art of making us "feel" something, even if we don't ever really see it on screen. "It's happening."
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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