ninth symphony films - movie reviews

SIGNS (2002)

DIRECTOR  -  m. night shyamalan

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  sci-fi

LENGTH  -  97 minutes

RELEASED  -  2 august 2002

DISTRIBUTOR  -  touchstone pictures


ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $62,000,000
signs - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from signs at

buy the dvd from signs at

a family living on a farm in philadelphia finds mysterious crop circles in their fields.

m. night shyamalan has a cameo in this movie, just as he does in all his films.


picture from signs

picture from signs

picture from signs


four out of four possible stars

Signs is hands down the scariest, creepiest, downright chilling film to come out of the Hollywood chute in years. In an on-screen style filled with more silence than screams, M. Night Shyamalan has created yet another unique film whose ability to shock and scare the audience is second only to its marketing campaign. Advertisements for Signs began appearing late last year, so far ahead of the film's release that it is hard to imagine any film being so hotly anticipated. Perhaps Star Wars had more press, but Signs is certainly worthy of every moment the media has spent in previewing it for audiences.

As with his earlier successes, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night shows his audiences that it is not necessarily what audiences see on the screen which makes a film interesting. In Signs, it is a combination of casting and screenwriting that make it impossible to tear one's eyes away from the screen during any one of this film's *** minutes. Even the opening credits were stylishly and creatively done. The entire above the line cast and crew was introduced via gray title screens before any of the film's action began.

And speaking of crew, this film had quite a small cast, making it imperative that each of the actors fully embodies their roles. Looking at the casting of Shyamalan's previous films, the task of casting the film seems to take top priority, in that each role seems almost created specifically for that actor. And in casting Mel Gibson, Shyamalan brought a huge A-list star to the picture who delivers the goods every time he's on screen. Gibson's role was seventy percent creepy and thirty percent humorous, and the picture had a nice balance of each of these elements. The scary scenes of the film were made scarier because of that dry humor that Shyamalan placed into the script that worked so well on screen.

With the wrong cast, this film could have easily become quite "cheesy," but for some reason, it never did. Joaquin Phoenix also brought a lot of humor to the movie, but showed the best sense of terror in the film, when the events in the story called for it. Probably one of the most tortured personalities in current cinema, Phoenix dances a fine line between scared witless and the comedic attitudes every character needed to bring to the film. In point of fact, there are several scenes in the movie that included some of the biggest laughs and some of the biggest thrills within moments of one another. And the actors just made it so easy to be frightened and to laugh at the same time.

The other major players in the film, which include the roles of Gibson's children, played by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin seemed very mature in their acting, even though they are both every young. Perhaps it was the dialogue given to them, but each of these small actors made just as much of an impression as did the older actors in the film. And in fact, Shyamalan's screenplay ranks considerably higher on the intelligence scale than most large summer releases.

It's not that the story is so incredible, but the dialogue itself makes for quite smart characters. And that is an accomplishment, considering that characters in horror and science fiction films are usually some of the dumbest of all the genres. But the characters in this film are anything but stupid. Cherry Jones in particular, who plays the town sheriff and a good friend of the Hess family, is an interesting supporting player in that she seems like just a friend of the family until the last quarter or so of the film when her performance becomes especially strong.

An aspect of this film which might be overlooked, because of how well it meshes with the performances, is the soundtrack. Composed by James Newton Howard, the music in Signs is almost entirely orchestral and is the same as what plays during the theatrical trailer. Howard did an excellent job of conveying the creepy atmosphere of the film, but never overwhelmed the production. It never took center stage, but it was always there, acting as good backup to each of the performers. And though the cinematography, under the direction of Tak Fujimoto, is very obviously the work of that photographer, it is still a stylish and understated element of the film. It, with the music, matches the tone of the film well and never takes the spotlight away from the story or the characters.

From start to finish, Signs is an extremely enjoyable experience in the theater. It was made to be seen in a darkened room and is a superior example of what good filmmakers can accomplish, given the right tools. It's obvious that a lot of hard work and effort went into this film, and it succeeds in its task: to entertain audiences with a good, scary time at the movies. The smart combination of all these cinematic elements could be chalked up to just a run of good luck, but with two other successful films having been released in the past few years, it seems that M. Night Shyamalan can add another notch to his belt. Signs proves that he probably has more intelligence than anything, with his audiences having all the luck of getting to see a great film.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

content 2000 - - ninth symphony films - photographs touchstone pictures 2002
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