13 Jan Movies I Missed #01: Signs, M. Night Shyamalan (2002)
SWING AWAY MERRILL. MERRILL… SWING AWAY.
It was the first weekend of the new year, the post-Christmas depression had well and truly set in. Although it had only been a three day return to work, something which should have eased me back, Christmas’s sense of freedom and abandon had been so painfully swiped away and those three days back were enough to make the wounds smart.
As I sat in a pizza-induced stupor browsing through all the various streaming services, trying to find a film for a short escape, I stumbled upon Signs. I’d heard of it before of course but I didn’t really know what it was about. Hovering on this option for a few moments, I was drawn in.
Merely the title had me intrigued. Signs. It’s eerie in and of itself. Signs of what? Signs can mean a lot of things and it’s deliberately left open-ended and vague, slightly sinister which I like. Of course, it means signs of extra terrestrial life, though. Those pesky extra terrestrials, what do their signs mean? What do they want? What secrets do they know?
Playstation controller poised, ready to continue my glassy eyed, interminable browsing, I noticed that Signs was directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) and that cinched it for me tbh. From what I’ve gathered Shyamalan seems to have had a lot of dips and spikes in his career, both criticised and celebrated frequently as a director. I’ve really loved anything that I’ve seen by him though so I stuck to my guns. I was ready to kick off my film challenge.
Given my penchant for all things sPoOpY I’m not quite sure how Signs slipped through my radar for 17 years. Signs follows father of two, Rev. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) and his two kids (Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin) on their farm. The film opens with the family discovering a crop circle in their field and well, things get pretty weird after that.
Scott walked into the room while I was watching Signs and upon seeing what film was on the TV instantly proclaimed “I can’t watch this. You need to turn it off.” Apparently someone was traumatised by this film as a child. He was heading out though so I was able to continue watching it once I got rid of him. Not without a bit of apprehension after that reaction to seeing it on the TV. Was I making a huge mistake watching this alone? There was no going back now, I was in.
My first thoughts were how very bright this film is. I could almost feel the scorching heat of the sun beating down on their farm. Those blue, blue skies and its contrast with the green of the crop fields and the brown of the parched earth. The sunlight beating off the characters. It’s almost sickening how bright and hot this film is. And this lends itself to the tension that builds from the very onset.
My favourite type of horror is the slow build, the type that merely flirts with the sinister and leaves the rest up to your imagination. The overt, slashers and spooks are great and all but I don’t find them as effective at the scare factor. True horror is inextricably linked with the imagination. I don’t need it spelt out for me.
From what I’ve watched of Shyamalan’s work he’s very much a proponent of this slow build and Signs is no exception. My favourite scene in Signs is the scene with the baby monitor. That goddamn baby monitor. Rory Culkin is on top of the car, holding up a baby monitor which is picking up weird signals and making weird noises. The score is tense AF. Everyone is holding still and suddenly there’s this God-awful noise (is it dialect?) emanating out of the baby monitor, just momentarily. It’s not frightening but it’s enough for you to be like WTF WAS THAT. The characters quickly try to brush it off but they can’t and neither can the viewer.
The characters are given a lot back story and flashbacks. Some of it is downright painful and other moments are bittersweet and emotive. As the new stories on TV quickly get more and more frightening and a worldwide crisis is beginning, the characters are desperately trying to hold on to hope. In this way I was reminded a bit of The Walking Dead. You get that same end-of-world anxiety watching Signs. It’s riveting stuff because at one point or another we all think about how we’d cope in a real Armageddon scenario. …Right?
Unlike January, Signs isn’t all doom, gloom and chest-wrenching anxiety. It has extremely emotive, touching moments that shows unity during a crisis is really the only thing that can pull us through, even when our very lives are on the line. The film is also filled with odd moments of humour between characters. Its deadpan, dry delivery brings to mind Lynch and even Fargo (the film I mean.)
Although I love a good unhappy ending in horror/sci-fi films I was really rooting for this family so I didn’t mind so much that this film had truly uplifting ending. I can only hope for the same for myself come February 1st.
Movies I Missed is a weekly feature on the blog. Each week in 2019 I’m watching and covering a film I haven’t seen, preferably one my friends regularly criticise me for not having watched before.