Signs (2002)

Signs (2002)
  • Time: 110 min
  • Genre: Drama | Sci-Fi | Thriller
  • Director: M. Night Shyamalan
  • Cast: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin


Preacher Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson, has lost his faith in God after his wife dies in a brutal car accident. He along with his son and daughter and his brother Merrill moves into a farmhouse. Crop circles begin to appear in their corn fields which Graham dismisses as mischief by miscreants. After hearing strange noises and watching news coverage on crop circles appearing all over the world, the family begins to suspect of extraterrestrial activities. Now they must stick together and believe, as a family to survive the ordeal and find a way to escape from the clutches of the alien invaders.


  • Signs is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It stars Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin and Cherry Jones. Music is scored by James Newton Howard and cinematography by Tak Fujimoto.

    Still reeling from the death of his wife, former man of the cloth Graham Hess (Gibson) lives and works on his farm with his two young children and younger brother. When the family awakes one morning to find a huge crop circle in their plantation, it is asked if it’s a prank or the sign of alien contact?

    I don’t know if M. Night Shyamalan discouraged the marketing of Signs? Where evidence very much pointed to it being an alien invasion movie for all the family to enjoy? But Signs is anything but a family alien invasion movie. The trailers were deliberately vague, there was a mystery element hanging over the picture and with the Shyamalan CV already boasting the phenomenally successful The Sixth Sense and the divisive, but very moody, Unbreakable, hopes were pitched somewhere between excited and intrigued. Gibson on board, and Phoenix as well, good selling points without a doubt. However, Signs is a grower, a film that pays better dividends on further viewings once armed with the knowledge of what sort of theme drives it on. Yet it still frustrates greatly and you can see why it proved so divisive.

    Shyamalan’s movie is primarily about faith, the loss of such, the alien visitors are merely a component of this theme, they act as the catalyst that takes Graham to the pinnacle of his voyage of discovery. The meditations on faith and grief are subtle initially but they drive the picture forward, but then Manoj Shyamalan slips into sermonising and his picture strives for a huge ending to justify it, which unfortunately never arrives, this after having been tickled and baited by the mystery of what the aliens want, friend or foe? Questions leap out such as will the Hess family come through this latest crisis in one piece? And will this “invasion” marry up with the director’s thematics that he is so keen for us to open our hearts to? The answers to these questions are mixed, and take further viewings to digest fully. That is if you can forgive the downright idiocy of the alien visitors in the first place?

    The last third has killed the film for many, which is a shame given the excellence on offer in the first hour. Shyamalan’s camera is wonderfully fluid, his mise en scène is ace and he garners wonderfully low-key performances from his cast. While as much as his critics hate to acknowledge it, the director has a brilliant knack for building suspense, the ability to draw the viewer into his world, playing on our basic inquisitive nature. That he hasn’t delivered on his promise, both here with the finale to the film and later in his overall directing career (though this writer personally loves The Village), is hard to argue against, but there is major talent there buried in his egocentric/confused make up. Elsewhere, James Newton Howard’s score is channelling Herrmann and Fujimoto’s photography is sublime, this really is a beautiful movie to look at.

    Definitely not a family film, and not really an alien invasion film, with it showcasing both the good and bad aspects of its director. Yet still compelling and pretty enough to warrant a second viewing me thinks. 7/10

  • “There is no one looking out for us. We are all alone.”

    Much have been said about director M. Night Shyamalan’s decline over the last decade. His output in recent years may have been patchy with films such as Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008), and of course a dud of a movie called The Last Airbender (2010).

    But he is still responsible for some excellent films like the underrated Unbreakable (2000) and the popular culture phenomenon The Sixth Sense (1999). My point is that Shyamalan is not a one-trick pony, and I believe given the right material and creative freedom, he will find form in due time because he has the talent to do so.

    Signs, one of his best works, deserves more recognition. It is also misunderstood as a horror film with aliens. Signs is more than that – it is an unconventional film about faith and family using elements of science-fiction and horror to draw viewers into a uniquely presented story.

    Mel Gibson stars as Graham Hess, a priest who has left church following a loss of faith after he loses his wife in a tragic accident. His children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), live together with him and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). One day, they discover large crop circles on their farm, and soon mysterious events occur as they try to survive what seems like an imminent alien attack.

    Shyamalan’s eschews fast-paced and exciting action for a slower, more suspenseful ride. Signs is never meant to be a blockbuster; it is an intimate look at themes that concern our existence. Faith and family are explored interconnectedly as they shine a light on hope and the will to survive.

    That being said, Shyamalan’s film can be regarded as a genuinely effective exercise in suspense filmmaking. There are a few jump scares that are accompanied by the director’s trademark marriage of sound design and music, most evidently in the quite famous ‘Birthday Party’ news footage that continues to chill me to the bone in the umpteen viewing.

    Shyamalan has always been a creative manipulator of the camera. Here, together with cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (Badlands, 1973; Silence of the Lambs, 1991; The Sixth Sense), he moves the camera around deliberately, almost always in long takes.

    He draws much of the tension from his placement of the camera, the use of lighting, and the building up of the film’s atmosphere of unpredictability and dread through James Newton Howard’s creepily brilliant score that echoes Bernard Hermann’s music for Psycho (1960). The final act in the basement and the subsequent climax in the house is a showcase of Shyamalan’s talent as a filmmaker.

    Shyamalan even dares to insert a flashback sequence in the climax that ordinarily would have caused massive pacing problems in any film, yet the end result only makes the drama richer, and the characters more motivated to act in certain ways.

    Some viewers have derided the film’s ‘twist ending’. All I have to say is that it is merely a revelation rather than a twist. There was a time when Shyamalan’s name was synonymous with ‘twist endings’, the latter often unfairly used as a barometer to judge the quality of his films.

    Signs suffered from this when it was first released. Now a decade later, there ought to be a renewed appreciation for the film. It remains to be one of Shyamalan’s best works, and in my opinion, one of the most suspenseful films of the 2000s.

    Verdict: A film not about aliens but about faith and family, yet it still remains to be one of the most suspenseful films of the 2000s.

    GRADE: A-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *