A constant theme seems to run through M. Night Shyamalan's films, it's a fascination with faith, god and fate. What Shyamalan does with Signs is to create a much darker, mysterious alien invasion, one which asks questions as much about us humans as it does about the invaders.
Mel Gibson is Graham Hess, a reverend that has lost his faith after his wife was killed in a car accident. He lives on an isolated farm with his two young children and is trying to come to terms with their loss six months ago. We thankfully don't have to go through the usual laborious introduction with the everyday family life scenario - soon to be turned into chaos, as is the director's style we are left to fill in a lot of the gaps. All the parts of the film however come together in the end in an almost obsessive attempt to make the story complete, evident of a carefully scripted film.
Barking dogs lead Graham, his kids and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) to investigate some mysterious patterns, 'signs' in the field, which they at first put down to hoaxers. That is until they turn on the television and see that these signs are occurring all over the world and pretty soon they realise that these are navigation symbols for an alien invasion.
The tone of signs is very atmospheric, with clever camera work a tense uneasy style is created in which any noise or movement is likely to shock us. The relationship between the family creates some genuinely funny moments, many more than is normal for a film of this nature. The characters are very cleverly developed, especially Mel Gibson's. He is a person filled with guilt for abandoning his church-goers since losing his faith, he still doesn't have the ability to show his anger though as is illustrated when he has to scare an intruder with his ferocity. The best he can manage is, "I'm very angry!" and "I'm insane with anger!"
Despite being a good film overall there are a few annoying parts that don't really make sense, whether this is for a reason or to represent something is unclear but it certainly is puzzling. Things like why do the family have such little interaction with anyone outside the farm (nearly the entire film is shot within the farmhouse), and why when an invasion is certain do they stay at this farm in the middle of nowhere instead of going somewhere safer. On a farm it is pretty obvious that there are going to be guns lying around or at least some handy makeshift weapons, but they chose to resort to unarmed combat with the aliens and use the one weapon available (an axe) to wedge the door with. Points like this don't ruin the film but they do make it seem a bit daft at times.
Quite how Shyamalan intends us to interpret Signs is left largely up to the viewer, a big point is made of religion and how Graham struggles to find his faith again, maybe this is the main issue that he is trying to get us to think about.
If you are a fan of the older style horror films rather than ones making the most of the latest visual effects than you're more likely to enjoy Signs. There isn't a big build up to a grand finale, the momentum is there right from the beginning and if anything diminishes towards the end, not enough to make it a very enjoyable film though.
Don't go to see this film expecting an Independence Day style laser show…but do go and see it.
With thanks to the Warner Village Cinema at
Clifton Moor Centre, York.