Since his wife died in a car accident, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) has lost his faith and left the church from his position as minister, to concentrate on looking after his young children Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin) on his farm 45 miles outside Philadelphia. Graham’s brother Merril (Joaquin Phoenix) has come to live with them, but life is anything but peaceful when they begin to hear noises and the corn fields are mysteriously flattened in the shape of unusual symbols.
Review by Louise Keller:
The opening Hitchockian credits are fabulous, and combined with James Newton Howard’s edgy score, set us up with goose bumps and great expectations before the film even begins. But our expectations are not met, and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is a hollow disappointment, with its flimsy storyline and a curious mish-mash of genres. Despite some interesting issues raised, as a supernatural thriller questioning coincidences and fate, it is lacking in substance; as a science fiction drama, it is, frankly, unbelievable. The first half of the film offers plenty of tension as the premise is outlined and the early signs show that something mysterious is about to happen. Our anticipation is rife. But as the sci-fi elements evolve, everything goes awry, and our disbelief is confirmed. It’s a waste of a top cast and Mel Gibson is superb, as the minister who has lost his faith. It’s a powerful, understated performance and delivers the film’s most moving moments. Joaquin Phoenix’s talents are under-used as the troubled Merrill, but Rory Culkin and Abby Breslin are terrific as the two children. It’s refreshing to see children behaving like children. Shyamalan once again takes on a small role – this time one with pivotal relevance. He does a good job, but I question the wisdom of taking on this role, as it seems self-serving and becomes a distraction. It’s credit to the small cast that we believe in them as characters, and I enjoyed the few light-hearted moments as fun is poked at Dr Bimboo’s extra terrestrial book. It’s undeniably tough to live up to expectations after the complete and superb The Sixth Sense, although Shyamalan’s second film Unbreakable was not as satisfying as we hoped with somewhat melodramatic execution. For me, the insurmountable problem with Signs, is that I just did not buy the premise. If you don’t believe, there can be no magic; the tension and chills that come only from cinematic craft such as music, shadows and eerie lighting are clearly not enough.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There are now two signs that M. Night Shyamalan’s debut feature sucked up all he has to give to the mystic genres of cinema: Unbreakable and Signs. A muted sci-fi fantasy with spiritual edging, the script of Signs has not been proof-read – as in holeproof. There are not only holes in the plot itself as well as its construction, but holes in the two adult male characters of the brothers grim. Mel Gibson goes for a withdrawn, understated, physically inert minister who has lost faith in his god. “I hate you!” he hisses with tears in his eyes when yet another calamity is about to be served up to his family by the Almighty he once worshipped. Joaquin Phoenix’s intensity is totally wasted here as the brother with a great baseball swing, but the two kids are both outstanding. As I don’t buy any of it, though, it matters little. A good yarn is what this should have been, and a good yarn would have tension, fear and a great ending.
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MEL GIBSON INTERVIEW by Jenny Cooney Carrillo
CAST: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin
PRODUCER: M. Night Shyamalan
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
SCRIPT: M. Night Shyamalan, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tak Fujimoto
EDITOR: Barbara Tulliver
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Larry Fulton
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 15, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: February 5, 2003 (Also available on DVD - rental)
NOTE: Collector's Edition with special features will be available mid 2003