The Good: Moments of acting
The Bad: Poor direction, Ridiculous characters, Disappointing plot, Utter lack of mood
The Basics: A disappointing science fiction piece that wants to be a drama and suspense, Signs instead results in being silly and boring.
Saturday night, I was given the choice of which DVD my friends and I were going to watch and I opted against The Emperor's New Clothes and Bloodwork and instead chose Signs. Upon sitting through Signs, I feel I should have chosen Ian Holm's The Emperor's New Clothes.
In this disappointing film, former priest Graham Hess, a family man who is harassed by a local yahoo, finds a strange phenomenon in his corn field. Several stalks of corn are bent in an intriguing manner that - from above - is clearly a sign meant to be seen from above. As Hess works on holding his family together, the world is plagued by hundreds of similar crop phenomenon which is soon followed by alien ships which soon come to tear humanity apart.
Some want to praise M. Night Shyamalan for creating a film that asks ethical questions while making the viewer wonder what is truly going on. In actuality, those people are overstating this film; it is essentially the same science fiction standard that has existed since the 1950s when we had War Of The Worlds and other similar films. The problem here is that there is no similar element of fear or uniqueness.
Instead, the only element that is different is that Graham Hess is a former priest and he has had a six month ethical dilemma since his wife died somewhat violently. Only viewers who want to suspend their disbelief completely will find this compelling. Hess, as written and portrayed, is one of the least accurate or compelling religious figures ever brought to the screen. Allow me to explain.
Hess has fallen out of the Church since his wife died. It sounds like a good idea, save that modern priests are compelled, as part of the education of a priest, to do a tour in a medical facility. Thus, ALL priests encounter death as a matter of professional training. So, his wife dying, even with the seemingly random way it occurs, should not be enough to shake this man's faith so fundamentally.
Add to that, this man is supposed to be a priest. Why then does he willingly and willfully chop off the fingers of one of the aliens? It's not in self-defense, as there is a solid door between the two at the time. Add to that, given the opportunity to attempt to deal with the extraterrestrial invaders peacefully, he orders his brother to bash the creature's head in.
These problems are indicative of the lack of sense that happens as a matter of course in Signs. And we're not talking minor problems. In a key flashback scene where Hess is told he has a few minutes left with his wife before she certainly dies, he WALKS over to her, as opposed to RUNNING like any normal, loving, compassionate husband.
Similar lacks of simple obvious intelligence happens at the very end. When someone discovers what will turn the alien invaders, the radio does not say what it was. Considering how important a detail it is, it's unrealistic that it would be omitted. Moreover, the rather unoriginal nemesis of the aliens (see Alien Nation, for example) makes their choice of attacking Earth flat out idiotic. Basically, the alien invasion in Signs is about as sensible as us launching an attack on Jupiter.
Beyond the utter impractical nature of the film, the characters are entirely unrealistic and unlikable. Outside the police officer, Paski, none actually captivate us and make us believe they are real. Take Graham Hess's brother, Merrill. While on the surface it seems nice that he would come to live with his brother following his sister-in-law's death, it makes little sense because it does not seem apparent that he DOES anything there, nor that he left anything behind. So, it feels too convenient that he is there and it feels inorganic.
Graham Hess's children, Morgan and Bo, are similarly uninspired. All aspects of their character, like Morgan's asthma and Bo's drinking of water, serve only to be a part of the plot and do not seem to have any identity outside furthering the plot.
On the acting front, no one shines here. Mel Gibson seems unimpressive as Graham, adding nothing to the role and not making him have any presence. Similarly, Joaquin Phoenix could have been replaced by any muscular man in a tight t-shirt. The best acting here comes from Cherry Jones as Officer Paski, though, to be fair, Rory Caulkin holds his own as Morgan. The problem is, Morgan is used almost entirely to present exposition for forwarding the plot.
Finally, Signs fails because is fails to capture a suspenseful mood and it is desperately trying. M. Night Shyamalan milks scenes far beyond when they are interesting in an attempt to create suspense, by holding shots too long, keeping the aliens quick and blurry and similar cheap techniques.
This is essentially a bad 1950s style alien invasion story that fails to be interesting or suspenseful because it is too glaringly obviously trying to be something more than it is. Ideal for a night when you're with your friends and you want to sit around tearing a film to pieces for its inane content. If they do a Mystery Science Theater 3000 of this flick, I might go see it. Otherwise, I'll just do my own if I am ever subjected to this again.
For other alien invasion works, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Battle Los Angeles
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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