Talking about movies can get a little tense when M. Night Shyamalan’s name comes up. When you think about Shyamalan, confusing plots and unexpected endings that don’t make any sense may come to mind. This makes perfect sense, given that the critically-panned “After Earth” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” are part of his filmmaking. But before all the bad endings and confusing plots, M. Night Shyamalan was considered the next major director in Hollywood.
Immediately after the release, Shyamalan’s first two films were “The Sixth Sense” and “Invulnerable”, two films that are considered his best. In addition, these were some of the best films of the late 90s — early 2000s. To this day, The Sixth Sense is considered the greatest horror/thriller of all time, and Invulnerable is still one of the best deconstructions of the superhero genre – which is a very impressive achievement, considering how much the superhero genre has grown since Invulnerable. release. But that was twenty years ago, when the first vice appeared on his resume: the 2002 alien thriller “Signs.”
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The film has an impressive cast. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is a former priest who now cares for his two children, played by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, with the help of his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). The film takes place on their farm after the death of Graham’s wife. When the “signs” begin to point to the coming otherworldly danger, the life of the Hess family begins to turn even more upside down. What follows is a series of seemingly unrelated moments that lead to another twist by M. Night Shyamalan.
The film actually had a good box office, exceeding its budget of $70 million. But what made the Signs the first glimpse of Shyamalan’s troubled future was the film itself. It wasn’t completely wiped off the face of the earth by critics and fans, but after its release there was definitely not the excitement that “Sixth Sense” and “Invulnerable” had. It was met with mild reviews, which could best be described as “aha”.
But maybe this movie deserves a second chance twenty years after its initial release. This does not mean that criticism is invalid. For the most part, the criticism is well-founded; it doesn’t make sense that aliens arrive on a planet surrounded by something that makes them literally melt. It’s also fair to say that at times the plot can be a bit confusing, too much is happening at the same time. But the film doesn’t get enough recognition for what it does very well.
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If you look beyond the strange logic of Shyamalan, this film has a lot of weight. The tone and fear persist long after the credits roll. The opening scene alone inspires the audience with a sense of fear, although it is just a shot from the window of a house overlooking a cornfield. He teases so much about what’s going to happen, especially in the same cornfield that Graham will visit several times when confronted with what lingers outside his daughter’s bedroom window. But speaking of the unknown and the fear of Signs, it would be incredibly disrespectful not to mention an absolutely terrifying news scene. This moment alone leaves the most lasting impression of everything else in the film. This scene takes place after Shyamalan has already thrown so much fear and expectation onto the screen that not only are the characters as tense as they can be, but the audience is also reluctant to wait for a clearer look at what was shown just behind the shadows. I
In another scene (eerily reminiscent of William Peter Blatty’s screamer in the hallway from Exorcist 3), an alien jumps out of the bushes at a child’s birthday party. It gives the audience and the characters their first in-depth look at what everyone was afraid would become a reality. What makes the scene so memorable is the confirmation of the film’s lingering horror of the movie that follows the Hess family. This scene deserves to be on the lists of the most terrifying scenes of all time.
These scenes show how spectacular the “Signs” are and that they deserve another chance from the audience. Although the film is subtle and mostly takes place within the framework of this family’s crisis, “Signs” is a film that brings something new and unusual to the alien invasion genre. This is not a war, this is a series of battles between a family that is still trying to grieve, cope and reunite in this doomed world. It is in these individual battles that the full story begins to take shape in one last moment and completion. Maybe it’s too much, but this movie deserves a second chance. Perhaps all that is needed is to take a step back and immerse yourself in the story that is unfolding.