with Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin
Directed and written by M. Night Shyamalan
by Chad Van Wagner
Director M. Night Shyamalan is developing a pretty good track record. With The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and now Signs, he’s crafted genre films that don’t feel like genre films, simply because it’s about the characters, not the special effects. Signs is about an alien invasion, but there are very few aliens. Instead, like the incontestable classic Night of the Living Dead, we get a film about people in a bad situation, not just a rundown of the events. Zombies (or, in this case, aliens) are a means to an end, not the end itself.
Mel Gibson is a widowed ex-minister who, in addition to battling off hostile visitors from another planet, is raising two kids with his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) while he struggles with his newly-acquired agnosticism. This is the film. And a fine one it is, although it should be mentioned that it wraps itself up a little too neatly. To tell any more would be telling too much.
What is most effective about Signs is Shyamalan’s restraint (a tool which backfired in some circles: People who wanted an invasion flick were sorely disappointed). We hardly see aliens at all, and we only get glimpses of why Mel’s broken family is the way it is. Good. This was one of the best films of the year, and one can only hope that Shyamalan keeps after what he’s chasing. Nobody else seems to be interested in challenging mass movie-going audiences.