REVIEW SUMMARY: Excellent and suspenseful movie.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A widowed ex-reverend must come to terms with his lost faith when nearby crop circles foreshadow alien invasion
PROS: Suspenseful; dramatic; interesting subject matter.
CONS: A bit slow-moving in the beginning; director plays non-trivial role.
BOTTOM LINE: Excellent flick.
After writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan?s first two films (The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, both of which I enjoyed) proved to be somewhat formulaic (at the end, you realize the movie is somewhat different than what you thought), I was expecting more of the same with Signs. I knew nothing more of the movie than an early teaser trailer showed: crop circles appear on Mel Gibson?s farm.
There?s a lot more to this movie. Gibson plays Graham Hess, an ex-reverend who (pre-story) lost his faith when his wife died. Graham?s brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) has moved in to help look after Graham?s son and daughter. The movie opens with the discovery of a huge crop circle in Graham?s corn field. At first, the circle is naturally thought to be a prank. But then weird things start to happen and it becomes clear that the crop circles foreshadow alien invasion.
But this movie is not about alien invasion, and ultimately (by Shyamalan?s own admission in the DVD?s bonus material) not a science fiction movie. It is the story of Graham?s struggle to face his decision to forsake his faith in God. The invasion just provides a suspenseful backdrop in which Graham?s true beliefs are tested. The focus is really on the family struggle, not the invasion. Ninety percent of the movie takes place in the Hess household. There are no cutaways to aliens blowing up building ala Independence Day. Viewers experience the invasion from the family?s point of view.
The characters were likable and well-acted. There are a lot of emotional elements in the story (widowed husband, motherless kids, dealing with the man involved in the wife?s death) and the script balances them perfectly. The story is told such that the viewer?s interest is piqued after a somewhat slow beginning, and the suspense slowly builds from there. There were one or two moments were my suspension of disbelief was shattered. One was in Graham?s actions after the pantry scene (what, you?re not going to go to the police?). Another was when the director himself made an appearance in a non-trivial role. Ooohhh, you?re so much like Hitchcock! But these lapses were soon forgotten by way of awesome storytelling and pacing.
The DVD contained some deleted scenes that were better left out. (Aren?t they all?) I skimmed through some of the other extras, but I rarely watch them all.
Overall, this was an excellent and suspenseful movie.