Updated: Nov 11, 2019
Nominee #17 - Signs (2002)
A family, owning a farm discovers suspicious crop circles which they soon realise are the first of many signs to come...
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin
Audiences loved the Sixth Sense, critics raved about it, it was nominated for six academy
awards. Needless to say, M Night Shyamalan had a close to impossible task to follow that
up. In 2002, Signs was released. Crushed by critics and misunderstood by audiences, Signs
was considered a disappointment by many. The genius of Signs is not evident at first, and
this is perhaps what threw most audiences off. Signs is an alien movie, no argument, but it is
also a parable on faith and the power of belief.
Preacher Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson, has lost in faith in God following the death of
his wife in a tragic car accident. He lives on a farm with his son, daughter and brother,
played Joaquin Phoenix. After mysterious crop circles begin to appear on his farm, Graham
begins to suspect foul play and as he begins to witness further unexplained occurrences, the
preacher’s very beliefs are shaken.
This movie is realistic, and it’s this realism which gradually evolves into terror as the film progresses.
Signs approaches the sci-fi alien genre in a way only a director like M Night Shyamalan can.
The film, although dealing with extremely far-fetched and unlikely scenarios, presents these
ideas in the most believable way possible. Every character’s reaction is genuine, we as an
audience can see ourselves reacting very much in the same way.
The film’s setting is small and contained, we never go beyond ‘Bucks County, Pennsylvania’, there is no secret service sub plot that we’re so used to in this genre, there are no loud, flashy set pieces. In other
words, this movie is realistic, and it’s this realism which gradually evolves into terror as the
film progresses. Signs may not be a horror film, but it is scary. It gets you thinking ‘What if?’
A scene that occurs later in the film involving Joaquin Phoenix’s character watching the news -
this scene remains one of the most disturbing in sci-fi history.
Signs however is not solely about the aliens. In fact, the aliens introduce a powerful theme
in this film, of belief and faith. Every character in this movie is fighting their own private
battles with their beliefs, especially the reverend who doubts the existence of God. Signs
explores philosophical questions, Graham doubts God but aliens seem to be real. A
conversation involving Mel Gibson’s Graham and Joaquin Phoenix’s character heavily
explores these themes - Is there a God out there? Are we alone?
Signs was not afraid to ask deeper questions, controversial questions. Signs explores a
family’s journey as their faith and will are tested and in the process, we get an entertaining,
tense and often unsettling experience.