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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Now then, swing away Merill, again., 6 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Signs [DVD] [2002] (DVD)
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 sermonizing 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
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Location: Birmingham, England.

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