Review written by: Alex Sandell
Follow the light, my son. Do
not be afraid, for we are only
sent here from Hollywood to
instill solid Christian beliefs into
your head at an early age ...
M. Night Shyamalan is a sellout. Entertainment Weekly magazine calls the script the director wrote for Signs, "a deliberate attempt to reconnect with mass audiences"1 after M. Night's last film, Unbreakable, didn't bring in as large an audience as his previous picture, The Sixth Sense. Nina Jacobson, President of the Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group claims that, "Night wants commercial success so much that if he doesn't achieve it in a huge way, it's upsetting."2 Regarding the far riskier, and superior (to Signs), Unbreakable, Shyamalan himself says, "there was an uncomfortable spot I left you in and never let you out of, so it ultimately wasn't uplifting or satisfying. A movie that lives in a gray place and ends in a gray place will get you a gray response."3 Shyamalan's fear of this "gray response" has caused Signs to suffer as a film to an extent where it becomes nearly abhorrent. The director, so gung-ho on avoiding what he perceives to be the reason Unbreakable wasn't the smash hit The Sixth Sense was, goes out of his way to give the audience the "uplifting" and "satisfying" ending that he thinks they so need and desire. Ironically, it is this ending that makes the film far less satisfying and/or uplifting than it should have been.
Signs is a film about anticipation. Everything else comes second to the "build up." The film is one prolonged piece of cinematic foreplay leading up to what should be a massive orgasm, or subtle, thought-provoking night of cuddling with the ideas expressed in the movie. Sadly, instead of giving us a finale that is startling, or at least one that isn't entirely knowable midway through the film, Shyamalan gives us a sappy piece of sentimental sludge so sickeningly souring to all that came before, that he leaves the thinking filmgoer feeling slighted rather than scintillated. Imagine Hitchcock's Rear Window culminating in the purported killer walking up to Jimmy Stewart, offering him a Bible, and then proceeding to heal his broken leg through the power of the Lord, and you'd have some idea as to where Signs ends up. In its attempt to be "uplifting," the film becomes silly, and is at least borderline offensive with its strong Christian message, which makes me wonder if Hollywood should implement some sort of Separation of Church and Film. Shyamalan is so misguided in his beliefs, that even Christians may become offended by what the writer/director/producer presents them with.
Signs seems to tell us that there is no such thing as free will. Everything that happens happens for a reason and it's all happening because of God. In Shyamalan's world of signs every occurrence occurs due to the man upstairs, and nothing happens due to individual choices made by the men down here. Everything is preplanned, predetermined and, if you look hard enough, a preview of life's coming attractions.
Signs was the first Hollywood movie to be filmed after the 9/11 tragedy. I would like to see how even the most devout Christian would react to being told that the Terrorists didn't fly the planes into the Twin Towers because they chose to, but because God decided it was for the greater good. "The terrorists weren't the bad guys!" the message in the script essentially tells us, "God was. And he wasn't bad, but good, and only causing the terrorists to do what they did because it needed to be done for the betterment of humanity." The concept is insulting, and M. Night Shyamalan proves what a pretentious ass he is by shoving this message down our collective throat so soon after a tragedy of this magnitude. Night's "message" for the masses turns out to be more self-important than it is important, no matter how hard Shyamalan tries to convince us that it's the latter.
Right up to the climax, the film succeeds in convincing the audience that it's an important piece of art rather than a self-important piece of crap. The pacing is incredible, the comedy is wonderful, the acting is above average and the music (or lack thereof) is awesome. There are moments of suspense in the movie that stretch on for minutes without a single word spoken or note of music played. We are more afraid of what we don't see, than what we do. It's a throwback to the days where directors learned to scare us with what wasn't seen because they didn't have the money to show us anything else.
Signs could have been Shyamalan's best film yet, if it didn't sputter out at the end and then proceed to rub our faces into all of its idiocy. Entertainment thriving solely on expectancy is always taking a gigantic risk, because if it doesn't live up to our expectations by the time the credits roll, the entire film is destroyed. With The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Shyamalan had a firm grasp on this and was a master at manipulation and creating believable, or even beautiful, endings that went above and beyond where they needed to.
There were so many places Shyamalan could have gone with this picture. Instead of taking us to any of them, he sells the entire film out with a preposterous, predictable ending befitting of a B movie or religious seminar. Everything that came before has now been trivialized. None of it matters. In the blink of an eye M. Night Shyamalan appears to have lost faith in his audience. Suddenly, he feels the need to show us one of the most poorly timed flashbacks in cinematic history to remind us of each and every clue he dropped throughout the picture. It's as if he's saying, "look how clever I am!" while forgetting that his audience may have been just clever enough to keep up with him. Why? Because he's terrified of leaving us in a "gray" area. Rather than letting us figure things out on our own while coming to our own conclusions, he spells it all out for us and destroys his movie in the process.
After watching the embarrassingly convenient finale, all signs point to M. Night Shyamalan selling his talents down the river in favor of mass market appeal. By trying to please all of the people all of the time, while insuring that he leaves no one in a "gray" area, M. Night has abandoned his artistic vision in pursuit of ongoing commercial success. As much as I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I am having trouble believing Shyamalan was ever creating anything other than a product to be eagerly drank down by a parched public. This isn't art; it's commerce, and I find the whole damn thing to be wildly depressing.*Endnote* Was anyone else as insulted by the blatant product placement for the U.S. Army as I was? It didn't belong in the film. It didn't fit in the film. It was putrid. With the military product placements and the strong religious message(s), Shyamalan's propaganda in Signs is getting dangerously close to reaching a level that would make Josef Goebbels proud.
On a scale of 1-10?
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Entertainment Weekly issue number 666
2 Entertainment Weekly issue number 666
3 Entertainment Weekly issue number 666
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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].
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