The Birthday Series – Signs (2002)

Droids Birthday Series 2002 I’m counting down to my birthday by reviewing a film that was released on or around August 2nd dating back to 1978. Here’s 2002.

Signs Poster My how the mighty have fallen. In 1999 M. Night Shyamalan burst out of nowhere to take the world by storm with his uber-twist thriller ‘The Sixth Sense’. He followed it up with the brilliant ‘Unbreakable’ and the mega box office hit ‘Signs’. Then things began to spectacularly fall apart in a colossal failure of ego, terrible writing, ego, stupid premises, ego, desperate adaptations, and ego. Did I mention ego?

Signs 5 Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lives on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his two children Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), and his younger brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix). Formerly a priest, Graham lost his faith when his wife died in an accident six months earlier. One day there begins a series of strange occurrences. He discovers crop circles in his cornfield, one of many that have turned up all over the world. The dogs turn violent. There’s something or someone lurking about the house in the night. There are lights in the sky above Mexico City. We are being visited by an alien race. Is it ‘ET’ or ‘Independence Day’?

Signs 2 ‘Signs’ has me a bit conflicted. I find the viewing experience to be terrific. Shyamalan has a brilliant control of tone, and the films pacing is perfect. I allow the film to unfold, accepting the story and becoming involved with the characters. M. Night never allows the story to get away from him. The alien invasion is the catalyst for a family drama. It essentially boils down to a story about a mans faith. In a nutshell, the point of the film is that “the lord works in mysterious ways”. And at the same time it’s an expertly constructed thriller. The soundtrack is bare, which accentuates every noise. Every rustle of leaves in the cornfield, every dog bark, and every footstep is elevated. There are a number of effective ‘jump’ moments, and until the end the glimpses of the alien beings are wonderfully handled, as in the footage the Hess family watch on TV of the unwelcome visitor at a childs birthday party.

Signs 4 The performances are very good all round. Gibson gives his usual solid performance as a man who has had his whole life dramatically changed by a single, traumatic event. Phoenix makes the most of an underwritten role, giving the film a few moments of much needed levity, and the two kids never become annoying, which helps involve us in their moments of peril.

But here is where I explain my inner conflict. Once the film ends, once the dust settles and I start to think about ‘Signs’, I like this film less. The screenplay, written my Shyamalan, is one giant meticulously constructed jigsaw puzzle. Every plot point is laboured over. It’s all so blatantly manufactured for the services of the film it begins to feel fake. When thinking back on all the “signs”, such as Bo’s habit of leaving half full glasses of water around the house, Morgans asthma, Merrills history with baseball and Grahams wifes last words, the nature of the screenplay begins to irritate. Mainly my irritation stems from the fact that I was duped by a filmmaker on top of his game. The fact that I don’t question any of these things when watching the film is actually a credit to Shyamalans ability as a director.

Signs 1 I’ll digress from the specific topic of ‘Signs’ (in order to pad out this review), and take on one aspect of Shyamalans writing that I have noticed. When thinking back on his films, from ‘The Sixth Sense’ to ‘The Lady in the Water’, every lead character is pretty much the same. What they all have in common is they’re immeasurably depressed, and the reason for that is (nearly) always their wife. She’s either dead (Signs, The Lady in the Water), or she’s estranged (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable). I say nearly because I can’t really remember what the deal was with Joaquin Phoenix’s character in ‘The Village’ because I’ve totally forgotten most of the film. All I remember is that he was depressed for some reason. When looking back at his films and realising this, it’s no wonder that he has sunk as low as he has. He’s proven himself to be a one trick pony, taking a basic template and applying increasingly absurd premises onto them. It also didn’t help that he cast himself as “The Man Who’s Writing Will Change The World”.

Signs 6 Getting back to the film at hand, for all it’s faults, ‘Signs’ is an effective thriller. It’s solid in all departments, provides characters we like, and a story we get involved in, and successfully has us glued to our seats for the duration. It’s best to not think about it afterwards though.

two and a half changs

Gracias amigos! Hasta luego.


For Droids a jolly good fellow!

2009 – The Collector

2008 – The Midnight Meat Train

2007 – Hot Rod

2006 – Bon Cop Bad Cop

2005 – The Dukes of Hazzard

2004 – The Manchurian Candidate

2003 – Gigli


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

43 responses to “The Birthday Series – Signs (2002)”

  1. Bartleby says :

    I think you nailed this one Droid. A great review. I agree, although I think I’d cave and give it 3 stars, just because the first 2/3rds of it really are great, from a suspense/thriller standpoint. I live not terribly far away from Bucks County, and they captured PA in late summer/early fall perfectly, and there’s a rustic loneliness to it that really connects with me on a visceral/atmospheric level. I mean, he takes the time to show us the windchimes blowing in the wind, several hours prior to the ‘invasion’.

    But, then, just as you said, this thing falls apart to any scrutiny. I’d argue that it does itself in right with the final alien scene, but up until then, it’s pretty engrossing.

    I think, now with Mel and M Night and even Joaquin going off the deep end (a Signs curse? watch out Abigail Breslin!) it’s a bit harder for me to watch this one without thinking that someone must have poisoned the water on set.

  2. lordbronco says :

    Hey Bart-Do you think it’s Satan? just looking at “The Signs”-did everybody in this production sell their souls at the crossroads? Or was it m night prior to making “The Sixth Sense”?
    I will give you a script-and it will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams-I just need your soul.

  3. Tom_Bando says :

    *Good review.

    *This is a fave flick. I have always enjoyed the late summer feel of this (I know….but it’s There…), and it reminds me of the fields around the Gettysburg/York and Chambersburg. Pretty nice setting, plot and acting, mood all tops.

    *Shymalion has lost it though. Oh well.

  4. xiphos0311 says :

    30 minutes of nice atmosphere, story, acting and visuals then it shit the bed the rest of the way. fuck off Shamandlame.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      I was disappointed that they didn’t show the Big Chicken(TM) at Chambersburg. Chambersburg was Mighty proud of that Chicken.

  5. Tom_Bando says :

    Just for your birthday series there Droid:

    Napoleon Knickers Hulk> Mao Tse Deng Jackboots Hulk.

    You know it’s cosmic truth.

  6. Jarv says :

    Fuck this film. You were very generous with it.

    As Xi said- 20 mins of goodness, then it’s terrible.

    Oh, and “swing away” is the worst piece of writing in the last 10 years.

    I would orangutan of doom this film

    • Droid says :

      If theres 20 minutes of goodness it can’t reasonably qualify for the Orangutan of Doom.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Actually it can. If you have something good like the first half an hour that takes a 180 degree turn into massive stupidity, shit’s on the audience and wallows in awfulness that makes it an Orangutan candidate.

      • Droid says :

        Nah, I classify an Orang candidate as a film with no redeeming qualities. IMO Signs is not a candidate.

  7. Jarv says :

    True. Half a chang then.

    This film aggravates me no end

  8. M. Blitz says :

    I saw this movie and don’t really remember what happens in it. BUT it’s got Joaquin Phoenix so it can’t be all bad.

  9. MORBIUS says :

    Very much in agreement with your review Droid.

    Scary Movie 3 parodied this rather well!

  10. ThereWolf says :

    Very good review, Droid, I can dig where you’re coming from.

    I think it’s a top film. I got a big kick out of the wife’s last words, how you think she’s just rambling nonsense before death and then it all comes together.

    I myself can’t see anything wrong with the writing.

    The one thing I can’t stand is the supper scene and Mel starts blubbing like a big tit. Irritates the hell out of me. Just seems forced.

    Favourite bit is Joaquin watching telly in the closet, sees an alien on the news report and shits himself, ends up in amongst the coats at the back of the closet. Funny.

    Great score by James Newton Howard.

  11. Jarv says :

    You’re all nuts. This film blows. From the list so fa the only one I’d rather watch less than this contrived shite is The Collector

    • Droid says :

      Who’s nuts? You’d rather watch Gigli or Dukes of Hazzard than this?

      Someone call the men in white coats.

    • M. Blitz says :

      Jarv that is a pretty extreme position you’re taking considering some of the movies on the list!

      C’mon…It’s got Joaquin, and he’s such a cutie. Just focus on that, it’ll be ok. 🙂

      • Droid says :

        You have a thing for harelips do you Blitz?

      • M. Blitz says :

        What! He does not….okay, maybe a little.
        But it’s okay, still cute.

      • M. Blitz says :

        I actually was gonna google “harelip” but one of the suggestions was “harelip joaquin phoenix”. Ha!

        Oh well…

      • Droid says :

        It’s all good. He’s hidden it behind a wild man beard.

      • M. Blitz says :

        Hello! You are behind on your JP. He shaved that shit off ages ago….

        I actually have no justification for my Joaquin Phoenix fixation. I can’t think of a single movie of his that I really like.

      • Droid says :


        And Gladiator is good too.

      • M. Blitz says :

        Droid he is a child in Parenthood! But yeah, that IS a decent movie.

        I have actually never seen Gladiator all the way through. Just bits and pieces.

      • Droid says :

        Well you said film, not a film he looked cute in.

      • M. Blitz says :

        My bad Droid, you’re right. I should have clarified. There are certain qualities that a Joaquin Phoenix film must possess in order to be of good use. Haha, not being a child, that’s one….

    • xiphos0311 says :

      How am I nuts? I think this mess deserves an Orangutan for it’s massive suckatude after the first half an hour.

      • Jarv says :

        Apart from Xi- who is bang on about this.

        I agree that there’s a lot of suckitude on this list, but this is a genuinely annoying film, and as much as I dislike Gigli and Dukes of Hazzard they don’t make me want to punch the writer/ director/ ego-driven nobhead behind it in the neck.

      • Droid says :

        Nah, it’s not that annoying. Giving this film an Orang would be a touch OTT.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        This movie is exactly that annoying and more it’s a hot steaming pile of rancid ass butter and it deserves Orangutans, Smurphy’s and the middle finger of the apocalypse.

      • Droid says :

        Oh my mistake. That’s not OTT at all.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Good you’re finally getting it.

      • Jarv says :

        I actually tried to watch this again the other night, because it happened to be on TV.

        Made it exactly half an hour in, then it annoyed me so I went into the other room leaving Mrs. Jarv to it.

        I came back in at the “Swing Away” moment and I stand by this- that is the single worst piece of writing so far this century. Cheesy, predictable, cringe-worthy forced claptrap.

  12. Jarv says :

    Isn’t this the first film where the Fraud cast himself in?

    • Droid says :

      He was in Sixth Sense I think. As a doctor. I may be wrong because I’ve only seen it once at the cinema.

      He was definitely in Unbreakable, as a drug dealer at the stadium.

      • Jarv says :

        So he was. Those are two Hitchcock style blink-and-you-miss-them cameos.

        It was Signs onward where he started giving himself bigger roles culminating in the unforgivable egomania of Lady.

      • Droid says :

        The one in Unbreakable wasn’t a big role, but it came at an important time in the movie. It was when Bruce first started using his intuitive skill. Kind of a showy scene.

        Was he in The Village? If not, it’s a shame. I’d probably have found it much more entertaining if he had played the part of the retard.

      • ThereWolf says :

        He was at the end of The Village, as a security guard I think.

        Shit film.

  13. ThereWolf says :

    Just finished watching Signs again. Just wanted to make sure I hadn’t undergone a short circuit or something.

    Good film. Love the “Swing away” stuff. Still not seeing what might be wrong with it.

    • Jarv says :

      Aside from the fact that it’s forced cringeworthy bollocks?

      Not a thing.

    • Droid says :

      Nah, you haven’t gone nuts. It’s a decent film, just some of the aspects of the writing are a bit suspect.

      • ThereWolf says :

        I’ll go along with that.

        The supper scene – terrible. I’m not sure if the cellar sequence should’ve played in total darkness – don’t think it quite works. Also, the alien in the pantry scene goes on too long.

        MNS should’ve cast an actor in the role of Ray. He also should’ve been clearer on the ‘water’ aspect. I’ve always understood the alien aversion is to chemically treated water – but most folk think it’s just water in general. If the latter, then those aliens are pretty fucking stupid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: