I Saw the Sign
Six months ago, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson - What Women Want) was the Reverend of a church in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, but one day a freak accident caused the death of his wife, this in turn caused Graham to question his faith and in doing so quits the church. Now he lives a peaceful life on his farm with his brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix - Gladiator), and his two children, Morgan (Rory Culkin - You Can Count on Me) and Bo (Abigail Breslin - Zombieland). Then one day he wakes up to find a crop circle in one of his fields. He dismisses it as local pranksters, but as more and more crop circles start to appear, he realises that something unusual is about to happen. His brother still thinks it is pranksters, but the children believe that it may be the work of extra terrestrials. As more and more strange occurrences happen, the whole Hess family start to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is something out there.
"Signs" is a fall back to the days of the good old Hitchcock thriller, where the film is primarily set in one location, being in this case the house. Plus instead of showing us everything, we are aloud to use our own minds to scare ourselves. One example of this is when they hear noises outside the house, instead of seeing what is there; we are led on a chase around the house in search of it. This leads us to use our own imagination to scare ourselves. There are also some excellent scenes where you get so wrapped up with what is going on, that when a sudden noise like a phone ringing makes you jump out of your chair.
The reactions and emotions of the Hess family as they start to realise that this is bigger than what they first believed is truly outstanding. One scene which springs to mind is when Merrill is watching a broadcast on the happenings, and he sees something he didn't expect. In sheer horror he falls back towards a rack of coats in disbelief, but then moves back as he deals with what he has just seen. Another scene is where they are sitting down for a meal, the pressure of all the surrounding events are getting to them and finally Graham can't take it anymore, the whole family break down in tears of emotion, totally breathtaking.
Another great part of this film is all the little events and coincidences which have happened to the Hess family make sense in the last scene. Why were the last words Graham's wife said so important, why when the young boy went to the bookstore looking for a book on aliens was there just one book their that had been ordered several months before specially for someone who never went back for it. There are several more coincidences and visual signs that all tie in.
Although this is primarily quite a serious drama, there is some subtle humour as well. When Graham goes to get his sons medication, the young girl serving asks if she can confess. Against his wishes she starts to confess, the facial expressions and reactions by Mel Gibson are purely comical but within the dramatic boundaries of the film.
Oh no another Culkin brat I hear you scream. Fortunately, Rory Culkin is one of the Culkin Brood who is a very good child actor, for a child of 13 he does a very good job at acting out the required emotion in this film. Along with this you get Mel Gibson who brings years of experience to this film which really shows, I cannot think of another actor who would have been so believable in this part. Then you get Joaquin Phoenix, who although has been in some very big budget movies, really Excel's himself as the Merrill, who has basically stopped his life to go and help his brother bring up the family.
The music to this film has been purely used to help set the tension and if you listen carefully you will notice that it is done only using 3 notes on a repeating cycle. There is no use of main stream songs, but again. Signs harks back to the good old days of movie making where an orchestra is used to convey tension and emotion.
M. Night Shyamalan, who wrote, directed and also acted in this film, makes an excellent job pf it. He makes you feel for the characters in this film as each of them realizes what is happening. It is also nice to have watched a film where old fashion techniques are used to convey suspense and horror; I wish more directors would follow his example. Also, Shyamalan uses a lot of clues and symbolism around the film which you don't pick up on straight away, but each time you watch it you will pick up on more of them and find yourself going, 'oh, so that is why that happened'. His use of flash back sequences allows you to understand as to why Graham has lost his faith but also contribute to making you feel for him as a real person.
If you wanted to watch a sci-fi, alien film, then you will be disappointed as this is definitely not the focus of this film. If you wanted to watch a suspense drama which will scare you, then you will enjoy it. If you were after a film which was made in the style of Hitchcock then again you will enjoy this film. For me, this film is far more than a Hitchcock style suspense drama; it is about one man's journey in finding his faith again after disastrous events in his life cause him to doubt his beliefs. It is also provoking your thoughts on whether you believe in consequences or whether they are signs. The whole movie has been very well made and rates as one of my favourite films. I still believe that after watching this film at least 5 times, I have not picked up on all the little clues through out the film.