51. Signs

Signs1

What do people hate? Racist, drunk rich guys? Pompous dicks who fall on their dick-faces? Scary movies?

Why don’t we combine all of these and place it about two years before the shit came down.

This is surely the last ‘good’ M. Night film, although retro-hate is a factor, I’m certain. With The Village, there was some dissent, and (we skip over Lady in the Water) The Happening sealed the deal and segued so perfectly into The Last Airbender. The writer/director of The Sixth Sense, one of the most iconic films of its time and the huge talk of the town when independent films and debut starters were news, was a fuckup, hard and simple. Fuck you, M. Night. Fuck you.

And it’s true. He’s kind of a dick. Watch interviews with him, specifically for this movie, and it’s just insane. Almost sad too, knowing his future. No more Capital One credit card commercials for you, only Jaden Smith and oblivion, so to speak.

And even as Unbreakable, while excellent, suffers from some of that douchiness, mostly in its photography, Signs isn’t just the last good movie he did, it’s his best.

Probably his most spiritual film since Praying with Anger, Signs is simply, a movie about a man who wrestles with God. A simple man, who lives on a simple farm, with his simple family. The simplicity makes it easy to assume there’s other things going on, or to extrapolate it to other things — this is a fable, through and through.

But one so intense, so chilling, and so emotionally stirring — it’s rare that a science-fiction horror film ever appeals to pathos, but honestly, labels feel inaccurate here. Shamhammer traded in horror, despite the MPAA certs (we all remember that The Happening was his FIRST R-RATED FILMMMM), but the suspense and terror is far from endgame.

It’s empathy, it’s how we understand where these characters are at. And for the science-fiction, aliens and crop-circles aren’t necessarily a metaphor but a good stand-in for the great unknown beyond our sky, and their chief role is to facilitate that simple man’s regaining of faith.

God has a plan, and the road to forgiveness is a harsh, often cruel one. Maybe it doesn’t always manifest as greenheads for you, but that it does for Mel Gibson makes it fun for us. (And scary as hell: crop-circles are creepy anyway, but the way these aliens are filmed is chilling to the bone).

Signs is a clever story that doesn’t address the fact that it’s a movie. With movies, plot is everything. If there are lapses in logic, this is seen as a flaw, even if those ‘plot holes’ are central to our understanding the key ideas. Spiritual movies can’t survive in our world, which even by 2002 was becoming increasingly hostile to organized religion. (I live in Massachusetts, and might be biased to think that way).

I saw Signs in CCD class, alongside A Beautiful Mind — it was like a movie class, spirituality in Hollywood or something. This would’ve been a few years before I became a confirmed Christian Catholic and then ‘stopped,’ never having believed in God. Oddly, CCD was for high school, which was for college — and going to a state school, none of it was necessary. So my faith in things have been shaken too.

But I’m pretty staunchly anti-religion, so I don’t understand why this and The Road Home appeal to me so much (the Zhang Yimou film is not religious so much as it is pastoral supremacist you might say). Signs knows its story and tells it beautifully. I don’t have to agree with it point by point, because even extrapolated, the message is heartwarming. Shamburger is a spiritual soul, and I can appreciate that if I don’t respect it.

I just wish he’d put any part of himself into the movies he’s making nowadays. Because it’s like he was replaced by an alien or something — I don’t see it with Lady in the Water, but The Happening isn’t just poorly written, it’s so distantly directed you wonder if Mark Wahlberg was on his own (this was before the revelation of Marky as a brilliant comedic actor, although, some would have it, this was the beginning).

I can say what I will about M. Night Shyamalan, but ultimately, he’s a tremendous talent. He got too big for his britches, and the first two movies rode hard on their end twists, which made everyone assume that all the rest would have twists (The Village did, sure, but does what happens in The Happening even constitute as anything, never mind a dramatic reveal?), and of course, he comes off as a complete prick, but he made Signs.

And God-fearing or not, Signs is that most rarest of things: a heartfelt drama with aliens, and both of those things are intrinsic to each other.

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