Review by Walid Habboub
July 22, 2002
Signs is very clearly an M. Night Shyamalan film. It is a story about ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations, which unfolds through the eyes of "the common man". The pace of the film is deliberate, the style is low-key and effective, and, like all of Shyamalan's films, it is minimalist and efficient. And while that might be why the film is effective in places, it is also the reason that it lacks overall impact.
If you've seen any of Shyamalan's films, you'd know that reading about the story and the true nature of what unfolds would be spoiling the party. With that in mind, Signs mostly takes place in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on the farm of one Graham Hess, as played by Mel Gibson. Graham is a widower of six months and lives with his son, Morgan, his daughter, Bo, and his brother, Merrill. Graham is a former reverend who lost his faith after his wife died in a tragic car accident. One morning, Graham rushes outside to answer the screams of his daughter and discovers a crop circle in his cornfield. The truth behind the crop circle is then called into question, and the story unfolds from there.
The biggest downfall in Signs is that the secrets surrounding the crop circle are revealed in the first half of the film and there is very little mystery remaining for the second half. With the main mystery gone, the film becomes a little formulaic. There are a few scenes that heighten tension, but they are only used to keep the viewer interested, to keep a feeling of fear and mystique, rather than drive the story. Many scenes are quickly discarded and do not gel with the rest of the film but without them, the film lacks consistent drama. So while some scenes are a little contrived, they are necessary because they keep the viewer's interest. Signs might be too emotional for its own good. The film strays from its main premise and its focus on the human aspect of the story deters it from being entertaining.
Having said that, Signs is good, especially as it gears up towards the end. The performances are solid though not challenging, and some of the awkward scenes are as dismissible as some of the previously-mentioned tension-filled, non-plot-centered ones. It's a different way of telling a story that, in and of itself, is a refreshing change from mainstream films. The payoff is not very powerful, but the film achieves what it is trying to accomplish, and that is take a realistic, human perspective on a grand story. As a humanistic look at an extraordinary event, it is very good; as entertainment, it is slightly better than mediocre.