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February 2003                                             SITE MAP   SEARCH
cast: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, Rory Culkin, and Abigail Breslin

director: M. Night Shyamalan

106 minutes (12) 2002
Buena Vista VHS rental
Also available to rent on DVD

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Former pastor Graham Hess lives a quiet life on a Pennsylvania farm with his two young children and his brother, a once-promising baseball player. But there's something going on out in the cornfields. Crop circles appear, farm animals turn vicious; the radio picks up strange signals. As UFO sightings convulse the world, Hess realises that there's something extraterrestrial out there in the dark - and it isn't at all friendly.
   As the invasion proper begins, it seems that the only way they can survive is through the intervention of some higher power. Embittered by the death of his wife in a road accident, Hess has abandoned his faith and his belief in fate - but perhaps God hasn't abandoned him...
   Signs was derided by some critics for failing to deliver an Independence Day style invasion movie, but in fairness, it delivers exactly what it promises. This is hostile first contact, as ordinary people would experience it - panicky news reports, inexplicable events, and a desperate scramble to protect home and family against the unknown. As such, it's both more plausible, and far more frightening, than any big budget extravaganza.
   It's also the film where writer/director Shyamalan discovers his sense of humour. Horror and comedy are not supposed to mix, but a vein of dry wit runs right through the film, and enhances rather than undercuts the scares. The story is grounded by a subtle performance from Mel Gibson as Hess, a simple man rediscovering the meaning of life, and Joaquin Phoenix gives a powerhouse performance as his more volatile brother. The chilling scene where, having forbidden the children to watch frightening news reports, he sneaks the TV into the closet to watch them himself, is worth the price of admission alone.
   Yes, there is a hint of convenience about the ending - but War Of The Worlds played the same card, and that's an acknowledged classic. And the final scenes do stray a little too far towards sentiment. Faith is never an easy subject to fictionalise, but overall, Shyamalan handles Hess' religious crisis sensitively, inviting us to share a personal experience rather than expounding doctrine.
   Carefully paced and beautifully shot, this is certainly not your average alien movie. It's a more powerful, terrifying, and profound film than that - the When The Wind Blows of invasion movies, if you like - and no doubt destined for science fiction top tens in the near future.