After ghosts and superheroes, it was soon time for M. Night Shyamalan to go down the alien route. Taking a page out of Steven Spielberg's book, this was the up-and-coming director's nod to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind: crop circles, ludicrous TV reports, paranoia, UFOs, the whole deal.
Signs certainly starts off promisingly and gives you the impression that you're about to sit through a thrilling mystery chock-full of fun Twilight Zone-style twists and turns. James Newton Howard's Bernard Herrmann-esque score hinting at an entertaining roller-coaster ride of light-hearted horror sci-fi shenanigans! For the most part, Signs does deliver just that. You've got Shyamalan's usual brand of slow build-ups and schlocky jump-scares, which work really well in that genre. Joaquin Phoenix, the two kids (a very young Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin) and most of the supporting cast seem to be having fun with their characters and the first hour or so offers some genuinely enjoyable Close Encounters-style moments. There's suspense, humour, you feel like the film is building up to something interesting and then...
Signs becomes a Sunday School session.
Yes, sadly the film loses track of why it was fun in the first place and not only decides to get boring and preachy but also give us one of the dumbest endings it could have possibly had.
Alright, SPOILERS ahead.
Mel Gibson plays an ex-priest in this movie, a guy who understandably lost his faith after M. Night Shyamalan (in another random cameo) literally crushed his wife to death against a tree with his car while he was asleep at the wheel. Gibson, by the way, gives a well-meaning enough but utterly unconvincing performance in this. It feels as though he's trying too hard to play against-type but forgets to give his role any sort of charisma in the process. It's like if you made an awesome sci-fi film then cast your granddad as the lead in it and he started rewriting the script during the shoot and making it way more spiritual and serious than it probably should have been. At the end of the film, we learn that these terrifying aliens we've only seen fleetingly thusfar are not only allergic to water Wicked Witch Of The West-style but have trouble with pantry doors.
They can build spaceships and fly them across galaxies but they can't open pantry doors.
They can make meaningless crop circles alright but somehow they can't master the mysterious intricacies of a pantry door. You'd think they'd be able to check that the BLUE planet they are invading is actually blue because of water, their one weakness, before actually trying to take over the planet. In the end, their "invasion" lasts about a few hours and they leave which completely undermines the tension built-up throughout the film. War Of The Worlds tried something similarly anti-climactic but that made more sense, besides, that's like the worst part of that story as well! These are quite simply the worst aliens ever. Not only that, but the film then suggests that GOD not only exists and knew that aliens would eventually invade Earth but planted subtle signs everywhere to help us tackle this whole threat. The final shot of the film sees Mel Gibson embrace his faith once again... which is shocking considering that his God not only killed his wife, made one of his children asthmatic and the other a germaphobe, not to mention destroyed the life of the guy who accidentally killed his wife just to give him a meaningless epiphany. Oh and I'm guessing God created those aliens in the first place so it's just him f***ing with people, basically.
And somehow that's... a good thing?
It's a shame the film crumbles so heavily into nonsense the way it does because there was a really fun, really suspenseful film in there somewhere. The alien stuff is already pretty hard to swallow so when the whole "signs" thing actually hits, you'll give up on the movie altogether. It's an entertaining enough ride but one which'll probably infuriate you more than anything else. I'd say check out Signs for its decent first hour but brace yourself for a truly mindless third act.
"Mindless" being the key word here.