Signs

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(2002) ★★½

BBC1: Sunday 10 January, 11.25pm

When crop circles appear in the cornfields next to Mel Gibson’s Pennsylvania home, he shrugs them off as the work of local hothead pranksters. But his young children, silently grieving their mother’s recent death, are more in tune with what’s really going on. Rory Culkin instinctively attributes them to extra-terrestrials, while his younger sister Abigail Breslin studiously prepares for events which she’s already seen in dreams. Gibson’s brother Joaquin Phoenix intently watches disturbing TV news reports which confirm Culkin’s fears. M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi siege picture strains for a significance that these characters, already over-burdened with emotional baggage, cannot hope to carry.

Following the ingenious ghost story The Sixth Sense and its equally mysterious successor Unbreakable, this alien-invasion drama is a distinct disappointment. Proudly coming out of Pittsburgh, Shyamalan treads warily in the footsteps of his infamous predecessor George A. Romero, although Night of the Living Dead is by no means the only work that Signs invokes. The corner-of-the-eye spookiness is unduly beholden to the visual sleights in The Blair Witch Project, the young girl’s obsessive tic – leaving glasses of water half-filled because they’re ‘contaminated’ – is a presumably conscious echo of John Irving’s peculiar eponymous hero in A Prayer for Owen Meany (filmed in 1998 as Simon Birch), while Gibson’s loss of faith is painfully dwelt upon.

All of which gives the isolated setting, the stark use of lighting and the deliberate framing of Gibson in relation to his fractured family, a bizarre resemblance to Ingmar Bergman’s tortured drama Through a Glass Darkly. Good as it looks, though, and leavened with surprising and understated moments of humour, Signs feels mostly like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits: an intriguing story with methodical preparation for a pay-off that never comes. That’s the director, by the way, as veterinarian Ray Reddy. And worse – much worse – was to follow: Lady in the Water, The Last Airbender, After Earth…

Certificate: 12
Duration: 104min

IMDB – Signs

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Rotten Tomatoes – Signs

Other Showings Date & Time
BBC1 Scotland Monday, 11 January at 12:35AM