One of M. Night Shyamalan’s better known films is Signs (2002), starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Shyamalan wrote, directed and produced the film, and even has a cameo. The story opens when a man, Graham Hess, finds a mysterious crop circle on his Pennsylvania property and has an eerie feeling that it may not be just pranksters. His children notice other things out of the ordinary, like frantic dogs and shadows appearing at night, and noises on the roof. At first the children are not taken seriously by Graham or his brother, Merrill, but soon their imagination about extraterrestrial life becomes more and more valuable.
The compelling thing about the film is that there are multiple plotlines to follow. Most broadly, signs of alien life are appearing more and more frequently throughout the world, and humans do not know their intentions, if any, for Earth. On the surface, the film is a sci-fi thriller.
Meanwhile, the audience learns the story of Graham Hess, who used to be a priest until he lost his faith after the horrific death of his wife. He and his younger brother discuss throughout the film the importance of faith, and whether or not there is God with a purpose or just coincidences.
Graham is an interesting character because of this inner struggle, and the movie contains much more than can be seen from the synopsis alone. As his family is put further into danger, Graham has to decide whether or not to follow his old beliefs, or give up hope and submit to the dim situation.
The M. Night Shyamalan film succeeds in filling its audiences with terror by using dark lighting, uncomfortable music, and a plotline worthy of a nightmare. The family is locked in its home, unable to communicate with the outside world as it faces extraterrestrial warfare. The movie succeeds in making us feel as if there is something not quite right in our lives, and we wonder whether or not we are in danger while we watch the Hess family tremble at each sound.
Last but not least, the twist at the end is what makes the movie great. All pieces fit together as the family learns how to fight the invaders. Merrill’s baseball past, the son’s asthma, and the daughter’s quirk about having only clean water all play a part in protecting the family’s home. The film wraps into a clean package that pulls us mercilessly along right until the clever twist at the end.
The movie is the perfect nighttime thriller for science fiction fans, or for horror fans who like a monster, to make their hearts pound. The film also has themes of family togetherness and faith that appeal to a broader audience. It has a PG-13 rating because of “frightening moments.” The movie does not have a lot of cursing, drug use, or blood, yet it is a strong psychological thriller and safe for a brave young audience and adults alike.