August 12, 2002


SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE, SIGNS: I saw M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" on Saturday night, and I can't say it's a masterpiece of storytelling or suspense on the level of his earlier picture "The Sixth Sense," I found it a fascinating and well-directed film on the whole- and the best tribute I can give "Signs" is that I saw it over 24 hours ago and as I write it's still in my mind and I'm still pondering its meaning.
Like Shyamalan's previous two films "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable," "Signs" is a supernatural thriller that has at its center an adult male who is challenged, at least in part by a young boy who loves him, to accept his destiny . It's the most Hitchcockian of Night's films, in that the horror isn't what you see, it's what you don't see. Roger Ebert got it exactly right in his review: "Here is a movie in which the plot is the rhythm section, not the melody."
And that's what separates "Signs" from a movie like "Independence Day"- it's not really about crop circles or aliens, but rather about how one family reacts to such and the dynamics within- almost all of the best moments of the film are confrontations between dad Mel Gibson and his son (Rory Culkin, in probably the best performance ever by a Culkin brother). I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw lots of echoes of September 11 in the film- the events in "Signs" are supposedly affecting the whole of humanity, yet the camera never pans back from the Hess family farm in Bucks County. There's not really a surprise ending, but like the two previous Shyamalan pictures "Signs" ends up being about something completely different from what it started as- in this case it's really a story about family and faith. I'm not sure what religious tradition Shyamalan was raised in, but the theology ultimately endorsed by the film is a unique mix of Calvinism, narrative convenience, and good old-fashioned Hollywood magic.
Newsweek has famously called Shyamalan "the next Spielberg" and while I wouldn't say he's reached that point yet, I can certainly see him creating a high-quality, diverse body of work over the course of many years while never losing his unique voice- really, just like Spielberg. Even when Shyamalan's films have ultimately failed narratively (like "Unbreakable"), one can tell by watching that this guy is a special filmmaker. And with the exceptions of Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, I can't think of any other young director whose career I'm more excited about watching unfold.

Posted by Stephen Silver at August 12, 2002 01:37 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?