“Signs” is a thought-provoking thriller that creates most of its scares through the things that you do not see. M. Night Shyamalan harnesses his “inner Hitchcock” to capture the story from creative camera angles and unexpected perspectives. This is a great scary movie for beginners because it gives you the adrenaline rush without many nightmare-inducing images. James Newton Howard’s creepy score sets the tone for the entire film from the first moment of the opening credits. The dissonant chords put us on edge, which is a necessity since much of the horror is implied instead of shown. As a spoiler-free warning, realize that this story does not contain the expected Shyamalan twist. The “twist” is the misdirection of our expectation: this film is not about the aliens. Rather, it is about a family’s attempt to cope with the death of their mother. The title is also misleading, as the crop circles are not the “signs” that are most important in the end. Quality acting is what really helps us to feel as if we are a part of the events. Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix carry the film with veteran acting chops while the innocence of Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin create the sense of helplessness. They act far beyond the expectation of a 12- and 6-year-old. The film has several unforgettable moments (particularly the birthday party footage, the fingers under the door, and the dinner scene), while mixing in comedy to relieve the tension. The film does move a little slow at the beginning and the end, and there were a few scary moments that were interrupted by comic relief too quickly (though it made me feel better about the 11-year-old in the room who was very nervous). Some have criticized the lack of a pay-off at the end, but the ambiguity is what makes you realize the most important theme of this story. “Signs” isn’t my favorite film by Shyamalan, but it is a classic that everybody should see at some point.
[Pictured: I always love seeing stories through the unique perspective of M. Night Shyamalan]