WARNING:Up front, I will discuss major plot points and reveal the secret behind this movie in the review.
For those that haven't seen the film and do not want it spoiled I'll put it simply. If you're a fan of Unbreakable, then you should like this one as well. Now, on to the review and the spoilers.
M. Night Shyamalan's third major feature film is similar in tone to his others. Like The Sixth Sense, there is a creepiness and foreboding to the film that permeates its every layer. Similarly, like Unbreakable, it's also a very personal and quasi-realistic look at what would be considered otherworldly events.
Mel Gibson is Graham Hess, a former priest who has lost his faith due to the accidental death of his wife. He struggles with this issue every day on his farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania while taking care of his two children. Lending a hand around the house since his wife's death is his brother Merrill, a minor league ball player that never made it any higher. A rude awakening is awaiting them all when they discover the enormous crop circle in their field.
TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW!! Long have been believed to be a sign from aliens, they turn out to be just that. They are navigational symbols that allow them to arrive in certain points across the globe. It seems that they are here to harvest humans and have hundreds of ships placed across the globe. Determined to survive on their own and not knowing what's truly happening for half of the film, the Hess' make a stand in their farmhouse.
As in Unbreakable, Shyamalan has turned his camera onto a semi-realistic and personal look at what could happen in a situation like this. Gibson gives a good speech midway through the film when they discover the truth and depth of their problem. He and his brother sit on the couch, seemingly worried about the events at hand. His brother claims he isn't worried, but Gibson thinks it's the end of the world. It's a statement made on his lack of faith at this point. He left the church when he believed God had forsaken him and let his wife die and why would anything be any different now. Through their journey to survive, Graham must regain his faith and give his children and brother the hope they need to make it.
Part of the reason that Shyamalan's film is so entertaining is its willingness to explore the problem on such a small scale. Rather than the mass invasion of Independence Day, you're treated to a look at what a single family would be facing. There is an innocence to his characters. They aren't world-weary soldiers and presidents that can readily punch aliens without the slightest hesitation. They worry about themselves instead of the others in the world around them, realizing that if they don't make it out alive, what hope does anyone else have.
The film comes to a thrilling, if slightly predictable conclusion when the alien invaders have been repelled and Graham thinks they have all left the farm. They are mistaken and one is still lurking in the shadows as they emerge. They discover their weakness for water and it's not long before it's dispatched. The weakness for water was also another sore point for many viewers who complained that why would aliens invade a world that is predominantly water. My answer to that would simply be…why question it in a movie with aliens invading the Earth anyway. It you can suspend your reliance of fact to believe aliens have arrived, why question their motives.
My one nagging complaint is the director's choice of cameo in this film. He's appeared in all of his works and this is no exception, but I feel he has given himself too big of a role in this one. He's in at least three scenes and one is quite pivotal to the film and hinges on his performance. While not a terrible actor, just know his face as the director severed to bring me out of the film, something that I do not like. In the future I would stick to the smaller roles.
Perhaps it's not his strongest film, but Shyamalan has my continued trust as a filmmaker that has a truly unique vision on whatever work he touches. At his best, he's equal parts Hitchcock and Spielberg, combing the flair for suspense with a up-close and personal touch.
Signs is presented in its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and the overall detail is a bit soft. There are numerous night and dark scenes that seem a bit too dark on the screen sometime. The brightly lit scenes fair better in the transfer and certain scenes do have a bit of edge enhancement or pixelation to them at times. I never found it distracting, but perhaps a better transfer will come along when the inevitable 2-disc edition of the film makes it way to store shelves (there is not one currently planned).
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track on the film is quite good. The opening score, which is the only music in the first half of the film, literally thunders from your speakers and sounds wonderful. There are various opportunities for aural effects and all are used perfectly. The changing positions of the aliens in the cornfield, outside the house, and inside the house are perfectly portrayed. It's subtle demonstration of good sound design.
The disc has a few extras, most notably the 60-minute documentary that deals with the creation of the film. Covering nearly every aspect of the film in extreme detail, it's a bit boring at times and focuses on the director a bit much. Everything is here, from the script, sets, filming, effects and scoring. For a 60-minute piece, it's quite thorough.
There are five deleted scenes of various length and quality. The longest at 5-minutes is a deleted alien scene and sadly none of the scenes have commentary as to why they were deleted.
Also look for a clip from one of Night's first alien films as a kid and a multi-angle storyboard feature.
I missed this in the theaters and found it played quite well in the house. The creepiness of the farm and the happenings are not lost and it delivers a few scares and a continuing sense of dread. Fans of Night's other films should definitely pick it up, as should anyone looking for an innovative look on an age old cinema subject.