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  Film Reviews: Okay, He Figured Out What’s Really Scary: Signs  

Sunday, August 18
Okay, He Figured Out What’s Really Scary: Signs
M. Night Shyamalan is a true talent. First, we get “The Sixth Sense,” then we get “Unbreakable,” and now Signs. From the first two films, I was impressed, but worried that he would become “the twist guy.” See, I’ve had this horror future-vision where I saw myself sitting through his eighth film waiting to find out that the detective was really the perp’s post-operative transsexual mother. BUT NO! In Signs, we get the best kind of horror film possible – the kind that forgoes the cliched trappings of blood, gore and naked teenagers making out in abandoned cabins.

If parts of Signs look familiar, you might own the Led Zeppelin box set. The Signs Shyamalan firsts introduces us to are the 90s Alien chic crop circles that we used to hear so much about. Sure, they were never as big as cow mutilations, but for cinematic effect, one just can’t go wrong with crop circles. Cow mutilations tend to blow your PG-13 rating once you wet down the entrails for effect.

This would normally not make the SBB lineup, but Shyamalan broke the rules years ago with “The Sixth Sense.” Normally your thriller films are reserved for the fall (hey, Halloween ‘tis the season) or February (Valentine’s Day groping for the slow). Shyamalan has the mitigating factor in the forms of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix – the Male Eye Candy Factor (MECF). The MECF will draw both the male and female crowd – the female crowd for obvious reasons, and the majority of the male crowd will be there to look like impressive seconds as their dates realize the real thing is unattainable. Keep in mind that a film cannot make it on the MECF alone – there still has to be something to the story for the film to have legs.

And have legs, this movie does. Or maybe it doesn’t. We learn through the barest glimpses of the past that Mel Gibson is a widower and an ex-minister. Seems that he decided God didn’t exist after the death of his wife. He’s left with the care of two young children and a large cornfield. I’m never really sure if he’s an actual farmer, but without the cornfield, we have no crop circle. We also find out that Joaquin has moved in to help his brother and escape his failed minor-league baseball career.

The family is wallowing along in their depressive stupor until a crop circle appears on the farm. The investigation begins like it would in real life – with a rational explanation that does not involve alien life. This is the beginning of Shyamalan’s near relentless assault on what we believe is happening. His genius is in understanding that it is not actually the thing that is under the bed that scares us; rather it is the THOUGHT of the thing under the bed that brings the real terror. So, does the monster exist under the bed because he’s there, or does he exist because our fear says he does? For the duration of the film, we are in Shyamalan’s room dying to get close enough to the dust ruffle for a quick peek under the bed just so we can know for sure.

I am overlooking the obvious PCA alert, as this is a family with two children. I believe, however, that the trailers have done a more than adequate job of showing just where these kids lie on the PCA scale. Shyamalan struck child-actor gold with “The Sixth Sense,” and is surely still in denial about the abilities of 99% of child actors.

The Usual:

What It’s Worth: Full-price admission.

Annoying Theater Goer: Mainly the announcements from the Marcus Cinema folks. See, we saw the movie on the IMAX screen. The IMAX theater is not the largest theater at Marcus, seating-wise. Note to disembodied voice – when the show is sold out and you want people to move to make more room, offer some better instructions. The vague “move to fill empty seats” does little to help the audience. A better “stand, and move as far to your left as possible” is the way to go when talking to several hundred people waiting to see a movie on opening night.

Main Reason To See This Film: Shyamalan is a genius.

Main Reason Not To See This Film: It’s a tie – either Shyamalan deciding to put himself in for a cameo appearance (I find this very tired when any director since Hitchcock has done it) OR the constant closeups on Joaquin’s lip scar OR the need to unleash another Culkin on the world.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.

Nudity: Not technically, well maybe.

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