- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hen “Unbreakable” was released in theaters in 2000, it was considered a massive failure compared to “The Sixth Sense.” The movie just didn’t have the same selling power, and while most critics agreed it was a well-made thriller, the average moviegoer felt cheated by the lack of a dynamic twist ending. For fans of the director, however, he was two-for-two, and while his junior effort, “Signs,” kept that winning streak intact, it was the film’s commercial success that proved the more important victory at the end of the day. Not only did it show the pundits that Shyamalan wasn’t just a one-hit wonder, but it reconfirmed his status as one of the best suspense directors of our time.
Mel Gibson stars as Father Graham Hess, the former reverend of a small-town church who has lost his faith after a freak accident kills his wife. Living with his two kids, Morgan and Bo (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, respectively), and his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) on a farm outside of Philadelphia, Graham’s world is suddenly turned upside down when he discovers a crop circle in the middle of his cornfield. Initially believing it to be the work of some young pranksters, new evidence surfaces that suggests a completely different explanation. Crop circles pop up all around the world, animals go wild, and UFOs are sighted in the sky. Meanwhile, as the kids (and eventually Merrill) get caught up in the alien invasion, Graham is forced to accept the reality of the situation in order to protect his family.
While Shyamalan’s previous films were both moody thrillers centered on only one or two major players, “Signs” smartly divides the workload between the family of four. Gibson is still the star, of course, and his underplayed performance is top-notch, but Joaquin Phoenix steals the show as a former minor league baseball prospect who moves into the guesthouse to help out his big brother. He’s also responsible for much of the humor in “Signs," and though he isn’t involved in my favorite exchange (“Is ‘douchebag’ a curse?” “I suppose it depends on the usage.”), his initial reaction to seeing the aliens is the most memorable moment in the film.
Also delivering solid performances are Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin and Cherry Jones, and though the aliens play a fairly prominent role in the film (not to mention represent some of the best-looking extraterrestrials ever conceived), they never outshine the human characters. In fact, despite Shyamalan’s willingness to offer sneak peeks at the aliens before their big reveal, it never once dampens the suspense of the story. Unfortunately, if you’re not a fan of the paper-thin logic that holds together most of Shyamalan’s scripts, or his persistence that every one of his movies be tied to Christianity, you may not think “Signs” is all its cracked up to be.
Love him or hate him, M. Night Shyamalan makes great movies. “Unbreakable” might be his best film to date, and “The Sixth Sense” his most successful, but it’s “Signs” that is the most well rounded. A modern-day thriller crafted in the spirit of "The Twilight Zone," this is one of the greatest alien movies ever made.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Just like the Blu-ray edition of “Unbreakable,” “Signs” makes its HD debut with the exact same bonus material from the original DVD. That’s okay, though, because it was already great to begin with; namely a killer making-of featurette (“Making Signs”) that covers everything from production and SFX, to music and marketing. Also included are a handful of deleted scenes, a multi-angle featurette that allows you to flip back and forth between the storyboards and final version of two seminal scenes, and a short clip from Shyamalan’s first creature film, “Pictures.”