Directed by M Night Shyamalan, starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin.
Despite the rickety letdown of 'Unbreakable' it still took nearly $100m in the US alone and with 'Signs' M Night Shyamalan's stock climbs ever higher. He was paid $5m for the script and the movie has pulled in nearly $206m - and counting - Stateside. Yet again, it shows the director's talent for combining left field subject matter with mainstream appeal, but while an improvement on 'Unbreakable', 'Signs' still ranks as a disappointment.
Gibson plays widower Graham Hess, a father-of-two (Culkin, Breslin) who has deserted his ministry for full-time farming alongside brother Merrill (Phoenix). Still trying to come to terms with his wife's death, Hess' over-protectiveness about his children's safety seems to be a way of diverting energy away from the grieving process. His paranoia reaches fever pitch one morning when he hears his daughter scream and runs outside with Merrill to investigate. They find the children unharmed but discover the source of their shock: someone or something has left huge circles and lines in the centre of Hess' crop fields...
How apt for a film called 'Signs' that Shyamalan should have plusses and minuses the whole way through. Gibson is average as the lost man who finds his way but Phoenix is great as the hero in waiting. The Hitchcock-style start is gripping but the 'X-Files'-reminiscent ending is a disappointment. The plot is often ingenious but the pacing is sometimes poor. And while 'Signs' strives to be a stand alone experience it resorts to genre, aping films like 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and 'Night of the Living Dead'.
The most interesting aspect of the movie is how Shyamalan has allied Gibson's loss of faith with what is going on around him. Having believed for so long in something he could not see, he is now forced to watch a phenomenon unfolding around him without his former rock to lean against. Mixing humour and tension, Shyamalan deftly shows the characters retreating into their own worlds as the global drama deepens. Each responds in a different way to the situation they are presented with, but there is something from all their pasts and presents which will help them, apart and together, in their struggle to overcome.
The problem with asking why are we here, does everything happen for a reason and is there anything called chance, is that the film comes across as thinking that it has far more important things to say than it actually does. Setting up the questions was brave, but having built tension in the unseen, Shyamalan lets you down with a finale that is too convenient and incredibly hammy. It would have been far scarier if the Hess family didn't come face to face with what they were expecting - instead, you'll find it hard not laugh at what they have to deal with.
Worth seeing but not worth believing the hype, 'Signs' is a smart film but ends up being too clever for its own good. The biggest question you might be asking after seeing it is why people are willing buy into Mel Gibson in such an atypical role but would not give Mark Pellington's paranormal thriller 'The Mothman Prophecies' a chance on the basis that it starred Richard Gere. Now there's a film that that will really leave you with a lot to think about...