Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Spencer Breslin, Ashlyn Sanchez. Action/thriller. Written & directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Ordinary life is going on when suddenly a park-full of New Yorkers stop in their tracks, become disorientated, then find ways of killing themselves. Is it a terrorist attack? Is it an experiment gone awry by the government? Is it global warming? Or is the plant life around us in rebellion to our mistreatment of the planet? Each of these suspicions is addressed as our not-so-hearty group attempts to escape whatever is causing the mass suicide.
PREVIEW REVIEW: Mr. Shyamalan has always been a favorite filmmaker of mine because he generally infuses spirituality into his films and, in the case of Signs, is respectful, even in tune with Christian beliefs. Alas, hes been taken over by the forces of Hollywood (notice I didnt say the forces of Evil), becoming a replicant summer filmmaker who replaces wit, humor and style with special effects shocks and jolts. His script contains all the subtlety of one of those cable TV commercials hosted by Billy Mays.
The movie is well acted, but several clunker lines that not even DeNiro could deliver without audience snickering make it seem B-movie-ish. We cant blame the actors. The director/producer is also the writer. Sticky business for actors wanting to change lines written by the writer/producer/director.
Gone is the reverence for God weve seen in other M. Night Shyamalan fright flicks, with the main character profaning His name during a scene that seemed awkward and unnecessary.
And then there are those shocks and jolts, mostly as we witness people killing themselves in diverse and masochistic fashion. First, theres the bookworm who withdraws a hairpin the size of a Ginsu knife and dispassionately plunging it into her own neck. When a cop shoots himself and falls to the ground, we see blood spurting from the little circular wound - gruesome. People jump from buildings, their bodies seen lying mangled and in gory gobs of red goo. And to top it off, we witness a driver purposely run his car into a tree, throwing most of his passengers from the car. This scene is so vivid, enhanced by computer-generated magic, that it boggles the mind. It must desensitize the mind, as well, for weve seen this visual effect often, and each time the audience reaction seems less startled. If the word desensitized seems outdated, we can thank studio special effects departments that apparently feel no compunction to spare us the most graphic and realistic abuses they can replicate.
I keep wondering, however, if Im missing something. Its not like Mr. Shyamalan to gorify his movies just for box office satisfaction. But if there is a hidden message, its hidden a little too well.
There is some poignancy to the films concept as in real life we are being mystified by natures multiplying brutalities to itself and to us. Americans are suddenly realizing that we have little control over our well-being or our future thanks to nature, oil dependency and political leaders who make world-altering decisions without our vote. Moviegoers are searching for spookier diversions than daily reality. Wait until after the next election. We aint seen nothing yet.
DVD Alternatives: Alfred Hitchcocks The Birds, where a family is trying to escape a vengeful flock of ferocious fowls. Eerie, spooky and downright scary.
Signs. Farmer Mel Gibson discovers crop circles on his land. Soon the world is crawling with hostile aliens. Like Hitchcock, director M. Night Shyamalan builds tension through restraint. Its not what we see, but what we imagine that scares the Jujubes out of us. Besides being an arm-grabbing suspenseful thriller, Signs is an equally touching family drama. We get to know this broken family as they cope with the traumatic loss of a wife and mother. There is an intimacy in both script and presentation that causes us to care for these people. Added to the drama and suspense is the storys subtext about a man losing, then regaining his faith. The film also has an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives. Do things happen by chance or do they serve to develop our nature? Shyamalans film is about finding our way or finding our way back.