Signs
PG-13
Entertainment: +3
Acceptability: -1/2

In writer/director M. Night Shayamalans newest film, Signs, Mel Gibson plays a former Episcopal priest who has turned his back on God after the sudden death of his wife. Graham is silently tormented by his anger toward God. He can't even bring himself to say a mealtime grace while surrounded by loved ones. He has closed himself off, allowing life's misfortunes to cripple his relationship with God.

Then one night, realizing his children aren't in the house, Graham rushes outside. Hearing the youngsters calling from his cornfield, he desperately runs through the tall stalks until, thankfully, he finds them, unharmed. But that's not all he finds. The children point out an intricate pattern of circles and lines carved into his crops. Such crop signs are popping up all over the world, without any explanation. Believing the phenomenon to be a hoax, but still mystified by their sudden appearance, Graham is unnerved. And with good reason. For he soon discovers that we are not alone.

Shyamalan, renown for combining sophisticated entertainment with thought-provoking material (PRAYING WITH ANGER, THE SIXTH SENSE, WIDE AWAKE, UNBREAKABLE), has done the remarkable with his newest effort, a sci-fi thriller that harkens back to H.G. Wells's WAR OF THE WORLDS. It astounds on several levels.

First, there are the psychological thrills that generate far more fear than gory horror flicks about hatchet-wielding thugs who kill randied teenagers, sequel after sequel. Be warned, if you decide to see this film, it will jolt you often. And it spooks without teasing you. There are no red herrings. There are no cats jumping from behind a doorway to fake you out. If you hear an ominous noise emanating from behind a door in this film, well, it's not a cat!

But there's no blood or guts or gimmicky special effects used to terrify us. Like Hitchcock, Shyamalan builds tension through restraint. It's not what we see, but what we imagine that scares the Jujubes out of us in this movie.

Besides being an arm-grabbing suspenseful thriller, SIGNS is an equally touching drama. We get to know this broken family as they cope with the traumatic loss of a wife and mother. Added to the family drama and sci-fi suspense is the story's subtext about a man who has lost, then regains his faith. And lastly, the film has an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives. Are the details of life governed merely by happenstance? Or are they a part of a great plan? Do things happen by chance or do they purposely serve to develop our nature?

A few science fiction adventures have been respectful of the Christian faith. In the trenchant THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, a commanding alien being is asked if he has the power of life and death. He responds, No, that is reserved for the Almighty Spirit. The classic sci-fi B film FORBIDDEN PLANET also contains lines showing a belief in and respect for God. Generally, however, science fiction films are used as either cautionary tales warning us of how technology can undermine social behavior (METROPOLIS), or most often as horror gore fests (ALIENS, SPECIES) designed to sell popcorn and aid guys who lack the courage to wrap an arm around a cute date.

In this production, however, writer/director Shyamalan uses invading aliens as a metaphor for our fears of the unknown and our struggles with life's injustices. Rather than merely using the supernatural to scare us, he incorporates emotion and humanity into the thriller to give us a drama that suggests the importance of faith and spirituality in our journey through life. His film is about finding our way or finding our way back.

Symbolism is a key element in SIGNS. Little things catch the eye such as the stain on the wall where a cross once resided. In his frustration, Graham has removed the crucifix, but the remaining shadow states clearly that God is still there. The tableau is a powerful image.

We did a lot of religious iconography, notes production designer Larry Fulton. This is a battle of good and evil. So some of the shapes within the kitchen wallpaper, or the screen door, are quatrefoils. The doors of the house are crossed they are actually called cross-and-bible doors. Graham may have lost his faith, but its still all around him.

Some Christians may be suspect of the plausibility of alien creatures presented in this film. But as I said, they are a metaphor. Just as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used symbolism in their best books, Shyamalan uses supernatural elements to explore the human spirit.

So, is SIGNS for Christians? Ultimately, attending any movie is a decision you must make for yourself, guided by biblical instruction (Psalm 101, Philippians 4:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 and Ephesians 5:11). I found nothing vile or exploitive about this film. For me, it was two hours of passionate entertainment, which also asserted that we are more than mental and physical beings. I left the theater reminded that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Caution: If you should decide to attend SIGNS, be warned: It is rated PG-13 (2 obscenities one from a child and 5 minor expletives, but I caught no misuse of Gods name; the suspense becomes terrifying; eventually, we see demonic-looking green men from another world; these creatures threaten the leads; a dog threatens a child; later we see the animal dead, with a farm tool lodged in its chest; we see a woman dying after a car accident, but it is not bloody; there is some violence; the film's subject matter is far too intense for children).

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Buena Vista (Touchstone/Disney), 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521

Summary
Crude Language: Several (5) times Mild 2, moderate 3
Obscene Language: Several (8) times S-word 2, other 6
Profanity: None
Violence: Several times Moderate, few times severe (dog seen with BBQ fork in neck/ pulled by sheriff, punch threat, woman pinned by car no blood shown, fingers chopped off, boy given deadly gas, character beaten w/ baseball bat)
Sexual Intercourse: None
Nudity: None
Homosexual Conduct: None
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: None
Drug Abuse: Cigarette smoking few times
Other: Fade on wall shows cross removed, man says doesnt curse, girl wont finish drinks, girl confesses frequent cursing, man questions about believing in signs and miracles or just luck, man apologizes for deadly car accident, man declares anger at God, younger brother encourages older, mans faith restored
Running Time: 120 minutes
Intended Audience: Teens and older

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