‘Signs’ is the third major/mainstream film by rising director M. Night Shymalan. Following on the heels of the worldwide box office smash ‘The Sixth Sense’ and the unique and inspiring film ‘Unbreakable’, ‘Signs’ was going to have to work hard to at least stand up to it’s predecessors.
Like the aforementioned films, ‘Signs’ heavily features child-actors, uses a supernatural theme to form the crux of it’s story, and makes dazzling use of slow sweeping, mesmeric camera angles – each one meticulous and meaningful in it’s construction. ‘Signs’ is a film on two levels (at least)… on one level it examines an alien invasion in microcosm, following one family over the course of such events and portraying their actions and reactions pertaining to it. On another level, the film explores faith – a theme perhaps more important to the overall picture than the latter.
Mel Gibson is solid and nuanced in his turn as the fallen priest, making good use of his trademark charm by displaying an absence of it to good effect when the script calls for it. Joaquin Phoenix provides the backbone of the cast, playing the more traditional hero role to offset Gibson’s anti-hero. Phoenix does so with such good humour that it only serves to remind me that he is not nearly in enough films. The child actors are better than usual in these sorts of films and you can’t help but feel that Shymalan has some sort of hidden talent here – in that the children are so believable and natural in their roles (though perhaps Rory Culkin is a little too wooden).
Many people have taken great delight in pointing out various flaws in the film, most of them of the so-called ‘factual’ variety. I’m not denying that these flaws exist, but I think anyone who fixates on these sorts of things is missing the point of this film – it’s theme of faith is paramount. ‘Signs’ is such a strong film because the alien invasion part of the plot is almost a sub-plot, the characters are more important, and whatever flaws may be apparent in the motives of the aliens are unprovable at best and irrelevant at least.
Watch this film, I think it’s better than ‘The Sixth Sense’, it certainly stands up to more rewatching, and doesn’t rely on any sort of gimmick plot-twist. M. Night Shymalan appears to be on a downward slide at the moment, and if he gets anywhere near this movie again he’ll be doing well.