Signs

Signs ★★★★★

“What you have to ask yourself is what kind of a person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs...sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky?"

Signs was M. Night Shyamalan's second movie after The Sixth Sense and in my opinion it continues to be his last great film. I've enjoyed his later movies, but they never reached the high standard that those films along with Unbreakable set. Signs is a masterpiece at building up tension and delivering a truly atmospheric and suspenseful story. To this day I can still recall the uneasiness I felt at the theatre with James Newton Howard's masterful score (how it wasn't nominated for an Academy Award still astonishes me today).

The atmosphere in Signs is brilliant as Shyamalan took the macro premise of an alien invasion and presented it in a very micro scale, focusing on a small family living in a Pennsylvania farmhouse. This allowed the audience to get invested and care for these characters. A lot of fans judge Shyamalan's films according to how effective the twists in his stories are, but what he really excells at is on how well he can build tension and atmosphere with so little. For the majority of the film you are never sure if this invasion is actually real or if it is a prank, but Shyamalan uses common elements to scare his audience such as the barking of a dog or strange noises coming from outside. That is why by the time he introduces home footage in a newsreel about a brazilian family making a shocking discovery, the impact of an image that only lasted a second or two prooved to be deeply effective and unsettling as well as memorable.

The performances here are also among the best in a Shyamalan movie. Mel Gibson is outstanding in the lead role as a former Reverend who has lost his faith after a tragic family accident. His two children are played incredibly well by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin which only prooves how great Shyamalan is working with child actors and giving them strong dramatic roles. But the standout here is Joaquin Phoenix who plays Gibson's younger brother who is still lamenting his missed opportunity of becoming a professional baseball player. The relationship between this family is the core of the movie which also delivers some unexpected comedic moments. The reason we care so much for these characters is because they are given so much depth and the focus is on them, not on the outside threat.

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