Sunday, May 11, 2003

Signs: Beautiful But Not Deep

Signs is a B movie with an A budget so what you get is a good looking disappointment. It is true it's a mixture of movie elements few have seen before but just because of this unique style, doesn't automatically make it a pioneering film. Think Waterworld (but not quite as bad as that). If you like a straight thriller, a lot of drama and don't want to think, this is the movie for you.

The good: Shymalan is quickly becoming the master of suspense for our generation. He knows the camera angles to use, the music, the sound effects and has the skill of not overshowing your hand, the scariest monsters are the ones we can't see but know are there. He also has his biggest acting role in this movie compared to his others and for a director, his acting is not bad. This movie also has a sense of humor, unlike his last film, Unbreakable. It isn't bad that Unbreakable was very serious, it's what was warranted for that story. In Signs, it's about the relationship of a family and life in general, so some of those interactions are going to make us laugh.

The bad: Primarily, this is a story of a family dealing with the challenges of life. This family in Signs has had more difficulties than most, but that's why it gets to have a movie done about it. The twist in this movie and the one that discredits it as a good film is that one of the challenges in life that this family is forced to deal with is alien invasion. Put like that, it sounds ridiculous and it translated in the movie that way as well. The acting and the dialog is superb and the character development makes you feel like there is so much potential for this movie to be an excellent film... if it just wasn't for those darn aliens. I've got nothing against alien films, in fact it's a great genre, I just have problems seeing it in a drama.

Aliens or not, the biggest disappointment of the film is that this is not a thought provoking film at all. This is surprising because Shymalan's first film, The Sixth Sense had a lot of depth and forced people to question life after death or at least presented the theory to give you the chance to agree or disagree. Signs does not force you to question anything. It doesn't even give you the chance to ponder extraterrestrial life because the real story is the life of the family and the alien stuff is one of an old-Hollywood mentality, War of the Worlds like, aliens are automatically monsters. This makes for a very dated story and therefore not very interesting. The closest this film comes to provoking any thought is its theories on the coincidences that happen in life (which is probably what the movie is really named for), but only scratches the surface with that ideaology and just wants to tell two stories that don't get along.

The deal: So good acting thanks to the casting, good characters, suspense is good although hoaky at times. The movie is a mix of two stories and Signs can not make the marriage work. This would've been better as two separate movies, one serious, one entertainment. Also, some of the supposed dramatic scenes, the ones with the kinds of revelation that usually thrills audiences, seemed forced and ultimately predictable. Some of them worked, some didn't. The ones that didn't are the ones that felt like to me Shymalan went out of his way to setup early in the movie, a couple of scenes just to grab the Ooos and Ahhhhs at the end that the setup was tied to and it came off as weak for fans who want more from a movie, especially fans of Sixth Sense. I'm disappointed in the film. If this was sold as a B movie/indie/unknown or the story of the family was more in the background (less detail) expanding instead on the aliens or if the story of the aliens was removed completely, it might have been ok. It just seems Shymalan could have done so much more with Signs but fell short. Is he getting worse with his films or should he just stick to the supernatural?

I'll give Signs a B- for it's entertainment value.