M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs 


As much as M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is a brilliantly structured ScFi suspense yarn that’ll give your ticker a run for it’s money, it’s just as effective as a touching exploration of faith and hopelessness, the warring notions that there is either someone or something out there looking out for us, or more distressingly, there is not. One need only watch Mel Gibson’s staggeringly well pitched performance as a man bereft of belief in anything beyond the tangible to feel as alienated as he and his beloved relatives do when a sneaky, marauding band of extraterrestrials take up residence on their remote farm, leaving vast crop circles all about the place. As a dimly paced, impossibly eerie invasion narrative grips us from the forefront, we’re also somewhat primally aware of the story of a once steadfast man, already ruined by personal tragedy, come apart at the seams and start to lose his last vestige of belief in anything beyond our world. Gibson’s wide eyed desperation is almost scarier than the otherworldly beings themselves, which is saying a lot considering these are some of the most unnerving alien critters ever seen on film. A farm is the perfect oasis of desolation to set these events in, and the nocturnal romps through the corn in search of these beasties will make your heart skip a few hundred beats in apprehension. Gibson abides there with his ex baseball pro bro (Joaquin Phoenix) and two adorably deadpan children (Rory Culkin and a very young Abigail Breslin). There’s a deep sense of coziness that is violently uprooted when these unwanted guests show up, an idyllic tranquility tainted by an unknown element most foul, raising the stakes nicely, leading up to the claustrophobic finale. The proceedings almost have a dream logic to them, as if this whole deal is happening on a plane removed several degrees from ours. Characters interact in peculiar, staccato fashion, certain elements here and there don’t sound or feel like they’re… “real”, for lack of a term that doesn’t exist. Whether by choice or happy accident, Shyamalan unsettles us far beyond being spooked solely by the aliens, who aren’t seen in full till way later in the film anyhow. There’s just a hollowness to Gibson’s plight, a restless gnawing anxiety fighting at the whites of his eyes as he struggles to find the light that has left his path. The ending is a perfectly etched out cap to his arc that sideswipes you with emotional heft you never knew the film had in it, and a thoughtful, planned out story beat that takes some contemplation to fully absorb. On the surface, Shyamalan’s work here is a restless sea, but there be dragons roiling underneath, internal demons that extend farther than the excellent science fiction storyline and touch upon ideas much more disturbing: the endless fear of what comes after death, and who is really out there watching us, besides cornfield dwelling lizard-men. Great stuff. 

-Nate Hill

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