M. Night Shyamalan has officially earned my total and undying respect. His other two films, "Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable", showed the beginings of a truely talented storyteller, but with "Signs" Shyamalan has proved himself to be one of the most gifted young directors out there.
"Signs" is about a former preist named Grahm Hess (Mel Gibson) who lost his faith after his wife was killed in a horrendus accident. He lives on a farm with his two children, Bo and Morgan, and his brother Merril (Joquain Phoenix). One morning he awakes to find that there is a crop circle in his field. What ensues is an esculating "what if?" tale that's part "War of the Worlds" and part "The Birds".
Tha'ts all you need to know going in to this movie. Period. That is all. Anything more and it won't be nearly as enjoyable as it could be.
Here's my reactions to different points of the film:
1) The plot: No, I'm not gonna tell you what it is. But I will talk about the way it's presented. Shyamalan has made a movie about a possible alien invasion and has forgone the Hollywood mentality that you need flashy special effects & explosions when it comes to building tension. All of the suspense is the not created using monsters & chases down dark hallways, but rather the use of chracters to create a sense of dread from the opening frames. It's a sense of dread, knowing that something bad is going to happen-- only you don't know *what* or *when*. It's one of the movie's most powerful elements, and it works to the nth degree.
2)The pacing: Not since "Jaws" has a movie had so many screams come right after a laugh, and vice versa. While there is many terrfying moments in the film, there is also plenty of tension-releiving humor found throughout. It's not cheesy one-liners and zingers and such, but rather dialogue that feels like a natural response to the things going on around these people. Films that give the characters actual life seem to be coming along at a smaller rate these days, and it is such that "Signs" feels like a breath of fresh air in a summer full of clichés.
3) The acting: Gibson is terrific. So is Joquain Phoenix. The children turn in equally perfect performances, as do the small number of other supporting characters. I can;t talk much about the acting without diving into plot points, so let's leave it at that.
4) The score: James Newton Howard has finally given me the first truely and wholey original score this year, excluding John Williams' Episode II score. While all the other summer releases have had bland, unintresting works, here the music *is* the tension-- from the opening, screeching violin notes to the quiet piano pieces, the music never lets you forget that there is something wrong going on in the world. Something *very* wrong.
"Signs" succeeds in what it was trying to do-- in being a highly involving, suprisingly moving, and scary as hell piece of entertainment.
But don't take my word for it. See for yourself.
Rated PG-13 for tense situations and language.
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