Yes, I believe that there are aliens out there who can demolish humanity. What evidence do I have? Well, I only seemed like a loony until this April when the king of physics himself, Stephen Hawking, said it’s only logical that aliens exist. And that if they came to Earth, they might very well want to destroy us. (They might also not want to destroy us, but that’s not very scary.) Yeah, I still sound like a loony. But for those of us who fear the existence of those unknown beings, a well-done alien film is one of the most truly frightening things. Hey, at least we aren’t afraid of ghosts or zombies or even chainsaw-wielding Leatherfaces, because these things just aren’t real now, are they? I can hear your silent mockery…
Sure, it’s fun to catch the latest flick at the multiplex, or grab the newest release at a video store, but sometimes you just gotta say, “Out with the new, and in with the unknown.” There are plenty of older flicks out there that are worth a rental, but never registered on your radar. In Don’t You Forget About, we remember the long-gone gems, so you don’t have to.
Aliens exist. I don’t care what anyone else tells me. This cannot be the only planet in the universe where circumstances are so coincidentally perfect that lifeforms exist. And there’s also more than good chance that we aren’t the most advanced lifeforms either.
Signs is one of the few alien films that does it right. Aliens are chilling, mysterious beings that we know very little about, not bug-eyed, slimy, short, bulb-headed, green things. Films can’t tell us what aliens are because we don’t know, so by hiding his aliens in shadows, silhouettes and off-screen, M. Night Shyamalan lets aliens be whatever we secretly imagine they are. Even in scenes where we catch of glimpse of the stalkish, gangly ETs, we know that there’s much more to them than what we see.
Set in the farmland of little Bucks County, Signs centres on father Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), his children Bo (an unbelievably-cute five-year-old Abigail Breslin) and Morgan (Rory Culkin), and his brother Merrill (pre-rap Joaquin Phoenix), who moved in with the family when Graham’s wife died in a freak accident on the roadside. While Graham copes with the loss of his wife, holding the family together and leaving the clergy, aliens begin to subtly (then not-so-subtly) invade Earth and drop signs along the way.
Aside from the potentially real, poisonous gas-seeping aliens out to harvest humans, it’s also a story about faith. While Graham has backed down as Reverend, half the town still calls him Father, meanwhile, he begins to question God. Along with dealing with death and parenting, it adds another layer to the story, making characters a bit more real, and in turn, making the possibility of alien invasion more real too (for those who need convincing).
What also makes the aliens more real is Morgan’s book. When the family visits the city one day, Morgan buys a book about extraterrestrials. Juxtaposing absurd theories and hypotheses about space life with what actually happens in the film makes alien-doubters seem, well, wrong. It’s not about what the bogus books say, it’s about what’s real.
But what’s most rattling about this film are the things we don’t see. It’s the glimpse of an odd, twiggy leg in the cornfield, the bristling of the leaves, the off-screen rustling on the roof, and most of all, the trashing and pounding behind a closed door. Sure, the quick, distant slither across the screen or the reflection in the television set is enough to make you jump but it’s what you never have access too that allows your mind to delve into the most chilling possibilities.
What also creeps through your veins is the idea that crop circles snowball into the end of the world. The family follows the news through an old, staticky television and an old, dusty radio, because old things are creepy. Sound crackles, signal cuts out. As if odd coincidences weren’t enough to give you goosebumps, it’s jolting when you find out that it’s happening to the rest of the world, and getting bigger, as aliens crash birthday parties and intercept the airways. It makes you wonder about the coincidences in your own life. You know, the signs.
While it’s clear that Shyamalan’s art is haunting sci-fi, the cinematography in this film is also gorgeous. Of course, cornfields, farms and old, rickety houses make beautiful photo settings, Shyamalan’s brilliance is in his framing. In one scene, Graham sits on the stairs and through the railing posts, we see Merrill, Bo and Morgan on the couch in the living room with foil paper hats on their heads keeping aliens from reading their minds, as they have a conversation. It’s only one of the amazing scenes Shyamalan paints.
Entranced by picturesque scenes, shivering in fear of aliens, Signs is more than a fitting film for the suspicious, and even better for the ET believers, because we all want a film that confirms our greatest fears.