Field of M.Nightmares
Review by Ross Anthony

Three years ago unsuspecting viewers walked into M. Night Smyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" and were simply blown away by a very smart, intense, well-acted, perfectly directed eerie cinema experience. We loved it! And SignsShyamalan, indeed, deserved the praise. But now, his second effort after that ("Unbreakable" being the first), audiences are no longer innocent, no longer unsuspecting. Simply put, we're biased, we know he's up to something and that, no doubt, makes the something he's up to much more daunting a challenge.

Bias in tact, I still enjoyed "Signs" (with reservations). Again, strong direction, strong acting and a special something at the end -- a pulling together of the pieces. And even more this time -- a flare for the humorous. In fact, the first act hosts as many subtle funnybone attacks as scare attacks. But that spark, that magic, that unexplainable unshakable chill eludes us in "Signs." Nor is the production as smart as "The Sixth Sense." Given a bit of after-the-picture thought (and even some during), one might question the Signslogic and even events. Some of the most important scenes work at only 75% strength. Though Phoenix's lines round it out nicely (and humorously), Mel's big "coincidence or not" speech is cluttered and unclear. The dinner scene likewise, ends well, but misses the mark at its start. Unfortunately, any more specific analysis will spoil.

In many psychological thrillers, a writer merely scripts "stuff" between the scare hits, and though Shyamalan goes farther than that here, his more meaningful "stuff" still could Signshave used refinement to match the consistency and fluidity of that earlier project for which he will no doubt be sentenced for judgment for each new picture he tailors.

Done well: The opening credits are quite fun, though they did force me to giggle, and our introduction to Mel and family is scripted and filmed soundly. You'll love seeing Mel run through the thick of corn barely controlling his fear, stalks cracking left and right, flashlight flickering. When Mel Gibson is on screen scared -- you can be sure the rest of us have something to be unnerved about as well. All in all, though not loud visually or in audio, not a dull moment, and a rather fine arc of suspense building up to the climax

Citing "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Birds" and "Night of the Living Dead" as inspirations for the feel of "Signs," Shyamalan says, "I definitely feel akin to older filmmaking than today's filmmaking." He also says of his ideas, "Before it used to be...Oh, I have a good idea, I am going to write that now... Now there are like eight levels to my decision making. An idea has to have meaning, suspense, emotion and humanity... a universal message that everyone can relate to, whether they're in India, Japan or Philadelphia."

  • Signs. Copyright © 2002. Rated PG-13.
  • Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Cherry Jones, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Patricia Kalember, and M. Night Shymalan (as Ray Reddy).
  • Written and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
  • Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, and Kathleen Kennedy at Blinding Edge/Touchstone Pictures.

Grade..........................B+ (Strong)

Signs Signs

Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 07:53:48 PDT