M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan
|"There's a monster outside my room, can I have a glass of water?"|
|Time: 106 mins.|
Genre: Sci-Fi Thriller
It's beginning to look like M. Night is believing his own hype. Why this film has made so much money, when the infinitely more original and haunting UNBREAKABLE didn't, is a mystery to me. SIGNS is certainly a film outside the norm. It also seems to be a more personal treatise, a baring of his own "Why are we here demons?", that may have been better suited in a package that didn't include aliens. Shyamalan's reputation for stylish scares is somewhat upheld here; however, there's nothing truly suspenseful or surprising about the events that take place. In fact, he hits you in the face with his message every chance he gets. He's one of the only filmmakers out there using the medium to explore the greater questions behind our existence on this planet in a mainstream way and for that I applaud his efforts. Yet this time around he comes off heavy-handed and preachy. There are certain moments that truly grab at the heart, but for the most part there's never any doubt that Father (Gibson), a reverend who's lost faith in God, is going to regain his belief by the end of the film. It's clear that Night falls on the "nothing is an accident" side of the equation. How about letting me make up my own mind?
Granted, a journey of faith is not what one expects from a film about alien invasion. However, since both plot points are well-drawn out from the very beginning the actual cinema experience holds no true excitement. Night is a consummate showman, so there are plenty of creepy moments to keep the pace moving. (When did corn become so dangerous?) It's just that once you know the denouement, which happens in the first half hour, it's hard to feel frightened for the characters. Sure, aliens coming down to conquer the planet is NOT a good thing, and he milks the inherent fear factor for every penny it's worth. Yet I knew nothing was actually going to happen to our four leads. After all, they just lost their mother in a tragic car accident. Death would have to wait for them because that would just be too much to bear. I guess I wanted more mystery with my crop circles. Of course, that's not really what the film is about. The sudden presence of hostile aliens is just a means to an end. Night wanted something dramatic to make his treatise more exciting and palatable. No one wants to sit around and watch an existential debate about whether God's looking out for us or not.
By bringing about the end of the world, so to speak, he's able to cleverly draw us into the discussion, since it's a question that would probably come up under the circumstances. There are moments in the film that honestly make you question your own beliefs, which adds to the experience. The problem is that the characters are so wrapped up in their own grief, we never get to understand or truly care for them. We identify with their situation and hope they get away in one piece, but that's as deep as it goes. Gibson is too angry. Phoenix too sad. The kids are shell-shocked, having physically lost their mother and emotionally lost the connection to their father. They initially treat the arrival of the aliens with hope and excitement, anything to break away from their own reality. Unfortunately, the aliens aren't here to make friends. The one truly frightening sequence in the whole film has the family trapped in the basement with the aliens desperately trying to get in. While they're waiting to see if the basement will hold, we're treated to Gibson's flashbacks of the night of his wife's accident. Gibson arrives to find her barely alive. What he doesn't realize, until it's almost too late, is that her death was not in vain. She gives him the clues to their survival. Ah, so you see, God does have a plan after all.
SIGNS is a well-crafted, visually intriguing film that is just a little too painfully obvious for my taste. If we're going to spend so much time with characters, I'd like to learn a little more about them than we did here. Night seemed more concerned with the look and plotting of the film than the actual emotions created by it. If anything, it was too intellectual, which is a frightening limb to step out on. Most films go for the emotional jugular, requiring us to leave our minds at the door. This film has it's sucker-punch moments, but is ultimately too cerebral. He's so concerned with connecting the dots for us, he forgot to make us care. Everything in the film leads up to the final moments. Mom dies to save the family, kids quirks save the family, brother's old hobby saves the family, etc., etc. It's too pat. Maybe our lives are preordained, as Night suggest with this film. However, that leaves nothing to chance or free will and that's a little hard to swallow. If you've been on the planet long enough, you know that life is messy and some questions are never answered. Of course, maybe if we just looked for the signs, we'd think differently.