I am pleased to report that the incredibly effective music in the preview is in the film, a rarity. Also some of the takes used in the preview aren’t as good as the ones in the film; saving the effective stuff for the Real Show. My summary: Not as good as the Sixth Sense but much better than Unbreakable. The mood, the slow, languid, imply-don’t-show and show-don’t-tell pacing of Sixth Sense is there, along with a deliciously creepy score by James Newton Howard (who also did M. Night Shyamalan’s other films). Master lensman Tak Fujimoto (who gave Silence of the Lambs its understated creepy feel) paints Shyamalan’s story for him beautifully.
The film makes more of an effort to terrify, using good old-fashioned old-school implication of visuals, sound, rustling corn stalks, and tension. It’s pretty effective; without having seen much of anything I was pretty well scared out of my wits, and loving it. I did not find the Sixth Sense scary as many had, but this one I did. My companion muttered that he had to go to the bathroom and I hissed “no freakin’ way!” partially because he couldn’t leave NOW, it was too tense, too unmissable -but partially so I wouldn’t be alone in the packed theatre. Cornfields are scary even in the best of times, even more so with the aid of great sound design.
There is, thankfully, a whole other level to this movie beyond the one presented in the preview, and it is on that level that Mel is an excellent casting choice. As a man traditionally cast as sexy maverick or morally flexible hero, Gibson is also deeply believable as a thoughtful, concerned man and parent. It is also interesting to watch his physical performance – he is high strung and physically awkward with his body, as if he’s never used it before. His Data-like confusion at regular life things might be a bit much for a father of two, but it works for the character. I am loathe to reveal much about a film, so if you want to go in totally blind as I did, know that I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and stop reading now. Ok, wait, also you should know that Abigail Breslin, playing Bo, the daughter, is adorably great. Now stop reading.
Basically, the film is only secondarily about the advent of an alien encounter. That whole framework is only a structure for the smaller, more personal story going on in the household of ex-priest Mel Gibson, the aforementioned Abigail, Rory Culkin (doing his clan proud), and Joaquin Phoenix. Understandably, were aliens to actually visit our planet, our whole notion of the universe and our place in it would irretrievably change. The notion of an earthbound divine creator who puts Man before all other creatures in Creation would need a little revision as well. Then there is the former priest whose wife was senselessly killed, along with any faith he had in a Greater Plan.
Oddly enough, the crop signs and other creepiness and scariness in this film serve as second string to Mel’s rejection of faith and his emotional isolation. The thematic elements of fate and faith even overshadow and interrupt the film: In a climactic scene of high drama and tension, we flash back to something which we the audience might think is unrelated but what underpins everything in Mel’s emotional landscape. These events are his own navigational crop signs, perhaps; and then the scene resumes and resolves. It’s interesting (if a little egotistical) and different.
I was a little disappointed that Shyamalan seems to have lost his faith in our ability to analyze his films; in the Sixth Sense we are not reminded of a previous scene’s reference point by a quick cut to refresh our memory, but in Signs we are, and that disappointed me. But audience members filing out afterwards didn’t notice even with the assistance, so maybe Night knows Joe Audience better than I do. It’s cool.
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 8/2/02
Time in minutes 106
Director M. Night Shyamalan
Studio Touchstone Pictures