Without ever touching on a cliche (except to poke fun at it), Shyamalan skillfully builds the film on several layers--personal redemption, family drama, community-in-crisis, world on the brink. There are so many things going on in this film that it can't help but hook us completely, which makes the tension nearly unbearable when it finally arrives. This is gasp-for-breath, hold-onto-your-neighbour cinema, expertly written and directed, never relying on special effects where a more effective old-style jolt will do. In fact, the effects are so underplayed that you don't see them at all. And Shyamalan wisely undercuts everything with humour and quirkiness, keeping the story anchored in reality. We laugh a lot, because it's funny ... and because we're just as terrified as the characters. This is clever, mind-bending stuff. But the film is just as effective when it examines the internal belief systems of this frightened, fractured family. Both the script and the cast are well up to the task--we understand what they're feeling and thinking, and their journeys are powerfully moving. This is one of those rare thrillers that takes us intimately along for the ride. But don't expect a standard Hollywood blockbuster. Thankfully, Shyamalan seems incapable of playing by the rules.
dir-scr M Night Shyamalan|
with Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones, Patricia Kalember, M Night Shyamalan, Ted Sutton, Merritt Wever, Lanny Flaherty, Marion McCorry, Michael Showalter
release US 2.Aug.02; UK 13.Sep.02
Bump in the night. The Hess family tries to cope with an all-new world...
Yvette Rodriguez, Los Angeles: "That director is narcissistic. He is so full of himself. At the very end of the movie, just after the last scene, you see his name in huge letters across the screen. I thought the movie was pretty slow; the dialog wasn't very good either. I'm afraid to tell you about the idiotic ending because I don't know if you have seen it." (5.Aug.02)
Lynette Serrano, Charleston: "Great movie! I don't know how many times I jumped!" 10.Aug.02
Al Rodriguez, Los Angeles: "We went with a big group to the Vineland Drive-In on Vine and Valley Blvd. It's the last Southern California drive-in. We parked our SUVs together, brought along some lawnchairs and had lots and lots of food! Signs was great. I'm not sure why Yvette didn't like it, but we all were thoroughly freaked out! The great thing about the drive-in is that when something tense is going on you can get up and walk around, or eat something out of nervousness. Needless to say, I ate seven pieces of pizza, half a bag of BBQ potato chips, countless pieces of Snickers, Twix,and Reeces's candy, and drank a whole two-liter bottle of Coke. When I got home, I thought I was going to vomit. I was too sick to be scared! However, a 13-year-old who went with us was especially freaked out. He spent the weekend at our house and in the middle of the night, around 3:30am, he got his blanket and pillow and came into my room and slept on the floor!" (18.Aug.02)
Bryan Williams, Sydney: "I was shocked, scared and petrified. The latest offering from M Night is brilliant. The acting is superb and convincing, and the suspense builds perfectly to erupt into mindnumbing terror that I can't be alone at night anymore. This is a psychological thriller about the strange happenings of crop circles popping up around the world, but when people start to see things in the sky and unusual looking things lurking around, worldwide hysteria takes grip. The movie could have been a tad shorter; about 10 minutes less would have been perfect, but the film still is a masterpiece." (2.Sep.02)
Jo Caswell, West Sussex: "I watched this in a totally empty cinema, just me and the projectionist, so it was just as well I could sit at the back with the door open, as it was so full of suspense I could hardly breathe. Fantastically subtle, with tension that just built and built until you think you can't stand it any more. Amazing, measured acting from the whole cast, with many interesting themes that ensure you really get to know - and therefore care about - the main characters. It's as far away from Close Encounters as you can get, although both films give the same sense of 'world shrinkage' - ie, what is happening on the other side of the world is happening here, too. The tension is broken by well-placed humour, which is just as well, as otherwise it would all get too much. This is a seriously good, seriously un-Hollywood film that makes you look at the same old alien stuff in a new way. Rush along and see it right now, only take a sofa with you to hide behind when you have to!" (13.Sep.02)
Jeff Greenhalgh, Bolton, England: "Ingenious, thoughtful, well-plotted and carefully crafted psychological thriller. Gibson is a retired priest who lives in a small town with his young son, daughter and his brother. In recent months their lives have been in turmoil, but life for them is about to get really hairy when they discover large, mysterious crop circles in their fields.... To reveal more about the plot would be to reveal too much. The film draws the viewer in through puzzling and interesting plot details and the careful build-up of tension with many totally unexpected startling moments. Another unmissable gem by Shyamalan." (19.Oct.02)
Jenny H, Lincoln, England: "I saw this film in several parts, as we did coursework on it at school. This lessened the tension but I still jumped a few times. This is a great film. GO AND SEE IT NOW!" (10.Jan.04)