WARNING: Although this review doesn’t discuss plot details, it pretty much gives away the whole movie.
I was completely hooked (98% hooked) by Signs. I must have been in the right mood for it, and I’m glad I was, because I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, right to the very end:
- When the girl was trying to give the dog some water, and the dog barked, I jumped.
- When the guy was watching the videotape of the kid’s birthday party, saying, “Hey, little kids, get out of the way,” I was saying it with him, because I wanted to see what was on the tape. I was reaching over my seat trying to get a close look to make sure I didn’t miss anything, scanning through those bushes trying to figure out what the hell they were looking at. And when I saw that flash of the alien on the video, I flipped; it made me jump.
- The sound of the aliens on the roof made my skin crawl.
- When Mel Gibson cut the alien’s fingers off in the pantry, I was ready to hide behind my pillow (if I had a pillow) — but I couldn’t look away. The tension gradually built up for me as the movie progressed, and there was a point where the tension was so high I almost wanted to leave the theatre. The movie worked on me big time.
The news broadcasts made it too much like War of the Worlds, but by that time I was too involved with everything to cast off my disbelief. Even the flashbacks of Mel Gibson’s wife getting killed worked for me.
At no point was I saying, “Okay, this is stupid” (like I did a thousand times in “Minority Report”). I went along with all of it, the experience of it all. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more tension watching a movie. By the time I got to the end, I still felt tense; I kept looking around every corner, because I knew something was going to come out of the shadows, but I didn’t know what. That’s what really kept me involved with the whole thing, not knowing what I was going to see next or what was going to happen.
At the end, when I saw the reflection of the alien in the TV screen, I thought I was going to have a stroke; I wanted to run. And then when I saw the alien holding the kid in his arms, I was in horror. It didn’t seem lame, or silly or B-movie-ish or any of that. I was totally there, in the room with them, frozen, staring at that creepy-looking alien. Totally horrified.
By this time I didn’t care how it ended; I just wanted it to end because the tension was too much to take.
The “faith” message at the end movie was silly. There really wasn’t much to it, but I didn’t care. I walked out of that movie feeling like I had shared in the experience of the characters, that I was there feeling it all with them. The faith message was weak, but how terrified the characters were by the whole experience — I was with them, taking it all in at face value by the time I got to the end. That’s why the alien at the end horrified me, because to me it wasn’t a guy in a rubber suit. That fucking thing was real. I wanted to get the hell out of there. I didn’t want to try communicating in sign language or say, “I come in peace.” That was one mean mother-fucking looking alien, and I didn’t want to stick around and make friends. I wanted to grab that kid and run like hell. But the alien was holding the kid, and that moment of unbearable indecision was stretched out forever, and, again, I was there. The tension was almost too much to take.
And like I wrote, I didn’t care what happened after that. I just wanted the tension to end. Could have ended with a song and dance number and that would have been okay with me. I just needed relief.
Except for the faith message, the experience of the movie worked 100% on me. I can’t remember the last time this happened to me in a movie. Maybe this makes me a sucker, that I could be completely engrossed by such a contrived film, but all films are contrived; enjoying them is partially a matter of suspending your disbelief. And I guess I was primed to do just that. Must have been in the right mood. And I’m glad, because it was most satisfying experience I’ve had at the movies in the past couple years.
I remember people talking about how The Blair Witch Project totally horrified them — and how I thought it was a waste of time. That’s because right from the beginning I didn’t believe any of it. I knew it was fake and didn’t feel at all involved with it. For some people, Signs will be the same. This time for me, however, it was different, and I’m glad, even if it does mean I’m just another sucker. It was so cool to look at the alien and react to it as if it were real, to believe it. That was the best.
Arguments over whether or not “God” sent the aliens are secondary, if not irrelevant, to the visceral experience of the film.
(Note: This long-winded review was written soon after I saw the film in 2002. I recently discovered it in a Weekly Status report I wrote to my manager. I wrote all kinds of stupid shit in my weekly reports.)