Signs (2002)
Main cast: Mel Gibson (Father Graham Hess), and Joaquin Phoenix (Merrill Hess), Rory Culkin (Morgan Hess), and Abigail Breslin (Bo Hess)
Director: M Night Shyamalan

Signs is a really irritating movie. It's, in a way, good, but it's also a lousy movie at the same time. If M Night Shaymalan is a little bit more patient and stop trying so hard to impress with showy scenes of melodrama, if he makes a damn good movie, he will have a winner here. But he paid more attention to individual scenes as opposed to the movie as a whole, and Signs is a mess as a result.

Graham Hess, an Episcopalian priest who has lost his faith after his wife is killed in an accident, now lives in his farm with his brother, ex-minor league baseball champ turned gas station worker Merill, and Graham's two kids, Morgan and Hess. Then one day the kids tell the adults that monsters are coming, the aliens are coming, and everybody panics as the movie slowly builds - and I do mean slowly - to a bewildering anticlimax.

Mel Gibson actually puts on a decent performance - Shaymalan seems to have a knack for bringing out decent or good performances from lazy actors like Gibson and Bruce Willis, but Gibson's methodical acting pales when compared to Phoenix's effortless yet effective performance. Oh, when Phoenix says drolly, "Stimulating" (as a response to a question about his job at the gas station is faring), ooh mama mia. Hot, hot, hot! Ahem.

There are some really creepy scenes in here, mostly atmospheric in nature. The corn fields, the night, the camera work - all contribute to a great eerie atmosphere reminiscent of the best of Hitchcock. Although it is also disconcerting to see props like microphones dangling out in scenes when they aren't supposed to. In the $60 million budget, you'd think someone can spend a few bucks to erase those props out of the scene.

But the movie derails as it trundles towards a bewildering ending straight out of a coked-up Close Encounters Of The Third Kind crossed with a lesser War Of The Worlds. Shaymalan shamelessly uses his children characters as walking plot contrivances, and then passes off the children's contrivances as something whimsy or fancy. Aliens here can create giant holes in cornfields, but they can't break down a mere door. Oh, and apparently they are fatally allergic to a molecular compound that is found in abundance in our atmosphere. I wonder how they got through the earth's atmosphere then. And when happens when it starts to [spoiler starts] rain [spoiler ends]? Hmmm.

The kids are the worst. Shaymalan's lines such as "Daddy, there's a monster in my bedroom. Can I have a glass of water?" would work if it is delivered with a heavy dose of irony, but Shaymalan's script has no irony. His bewildering mumbo-jumbo New Age concepts of faith has nothing remotely Christian about it, but he's dead serious. The kids seem to be reading their lines out of the teleprompter, but Shaymalan wants me to believe that the kids are Amazing Special People Who Knows Special Things. And spending what seems like hours in scenes so contrived to be dramatic reek of self-indulgence of the worst kind.

And this is the third movie where Shaymalan casts himself in a pivotal role. Again, unlike Hitchcock's cameos which have always a cute sense of mocking fun to them, Shaymalan's cameos just make him come off like a pretentious hubris-laden twit.

Signs is a middlingly entertaining horror movie, but in trying to be the new Spielberg too fast too soon, Shaymalan is showing, er, signs of being a more grotesque self-indulgent monster than Spielberg ever is. All in all, a wasted potential - it could've been great, but it is actually an overlong The X-Files episode directed by a man who made Chris Carter look like a model of subtlety.

Rating: 74

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