SIGNS, from 2002, starring Mel Gibson, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, was one of the actor’s biggest hits, and the director’s second most successful (after The Sixth Sense). Done for $72,000,000, it was the 6th top earner for the year, with a whopping international gross of $408,247,917. *
“There is no one looking out for us. We are all alone.”
Widower and former Episcopalian minister ‘Graham Hess’ (Gibson, 45) lives on his farm with his two children, ‘Morgan’ (Rory Culkin) and ‘Bo’ (Abigail Breslin). Graham’s younger brother ‘Merrill’ (Joaquin Phoenix, 27) helps out. When crop circles appear in their cornfield, they assume vandalism. Soon enough, countryside mystery turns to intergalactic terror when they realize they’re in a landing zone for part of a worldwide invasion. The family braces for contact that doesn’t promise to be friendly.
The well-matched actors make a viable family portrait, and the script (written by Shyamalan) gives them leeway for gentle and welcome humor, no little heartache over the tragic loss of Graham’s wife, and a few other hurdles to overcome besides creepy visitors from another world. Graham’s lost his faith, Merrill blew a baseball career and Morgan is afflicted with asthma. One critic wagged it had “Plot circles”. Funny line, but the cast and director keep it from going too far into melodrama, especially considering the bigger, more perilous picture. The men are solid, the kids exemplary. Culkin, 12, also showed off to good advantage that year in the cult item Igby Goes Down, and this was the debut for 5-year-old Abigail, a pro from the get-go.
Shyamalan relies on tension (the aliens are only on-screen for a total of 90 seconds) rather than nastiness, and James Newton Howard’s soundtrack keeps it simmering, recalling the sort of eerie work once done by Bernard Herrmann.
Filmed in Pennsylvania, in Bucks County. With Cherry Jones, Patricia Kalember and director Shyamalan, in a small but key role.
* Dollar Signs: Mel’s salary accounted for $25,000,000 of the budget, with Shyamalan’s likewise hefty at $12,500,000. That celebrity power accounted for over half the cost of the movie. “There is no one looking out for us. We are all alone.”