A film with M. Night Shyamalan as writer/director is becoming more of something to look out for. His unique style or emotional story telling places a fresh spin on the Hollywood formula films and Signs is no exception. Just like Unbreakable, which was basically a super-hero film that look nothing like a super-hero film, Signs is a war of the worlds film that looks nothing like a war of the world film. Loosely labelled a Horror movie, Signs is about a small family living on a farm that finds a crop circle in their fields. Soon after a series of events occur that changes their lives forever.
Father Graham Hess played superbly by Mel Gibson has lost his faith in God and removed himself from the church. He lives with his brother Merrill Hess, played by Joaquin Phoenix and his two children Morgan and Bo Hess, played by Rory Culkin and Abigaul Breslin respectively. The four form a unique emotional connection that centres on the tragic death of Graham’s wife, which is the cause of most of the drama in the film. The course of the plot is basically Graham’s journey back to faith and the belief that miracles are more than coincidence, that someone is out there helping us.
The film is also a return to the traditional edge of your seat suspense formula. You are constantly searching for answers and at time the painfully constructed tension is too much to bear. The entire film concentrates on the vulnerability of the key characters and their sometimes very close encounters. It also never forgets to humour you along the way, and the comic relief is both very funny and well constructed. In terms of rewarding you for purchasing the ticket, this film gets top marks.
Whilst all this dramatic story telling takes place, the rest of the wider world is experiencing events that equate to an alien invasion, nothing short of the original War of the Worlds, and in many ways very similar to The Day of the Triffids. One could be excused for becoming frustrated that the wider story is not being told, but that is not the point of the film and it may also be the reason critics have received the film with a mixed response. The film did enough to my mind with respects to the wider world without losing focus on the four characters and their story at home. The film is basically a domino effect, where several dominoes are established in the course of the film and they all fall over in one key moment at the end. Some found this emotional and symbolic domino effect resolution somewhat unsatisfying, but I would certainly disagree.
The film is not without flaw however, at some key moments the tension is interrupted by a lack of both physical and dramatic action. Some of the special effects towards the end of the film are questionable and you perhaps see a little too much of Shyamalan’s not so little green men. Perhaps most of the film’s flaws can be attributed to the fact that this is Shyamalan’s first alien film.
Overall however the film is a rewarding and entertaining experience, it can frustrate those who prefer an Independence Day style production but at the end of the day that is not what the film is about. If only more films could display the level of intelligence and maturity of this film. Still it has received mixed responses and chances are you will either love it or hate it, I for one love it and will probably go and see it again.