At the turn of the century, there was no director who was more popular than M. Night Shyamalan. After directing the Rosie O’Donnell film Wide Awake in 1998, he unleashed The Sixth Sense upon the world in 1999. That film is regarded as one of the greatest horror movies of all time, and that is mostly thanks to the twist ending. This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t stand up on its own apart from the twist. It absolutely does, but the consensus is that the twist is the most memorable thing about the movie. The success of that film would be both a blessing and a curse for Shyamalan, who set incredibly high expectations for all of his subsequent films.
After the enormous success of The Sixth Sense, Shymalan wrote and directed the Bruce Willis/Samuel L. Jackson superhero movie Unbreakable. While critical reaction was mostly positive, audience reception was lukewarm at best. The film has since gained a rather sizable cult following, but in 2000 it was considered a creative disappointment despite earning back over three times its budget.
Two years later, Shyamalan returned with Signs, starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix and a very young Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin. Released 14 years ago today, Signs had a lot of buzz leading up to it’s premiere. It wouldn’t be until after Lady in the Water when Shyamalan truly started to become the butt of every joke in Hollywood. Signs received critical acclaim (it’s his second best-reviewed film), with many praising it for it’s buildup and level of suspense while criticizing its payoff.
The payoff, of course, is the half-assed attempt at a twist during the film’s climax. As many of you probably already know, the aliens who are attempting to take over the world have a severe allergy to water, an element that makes up 71% of the earth’s surface. It certainly makes them seem a lot less intelligent than you would think they would be. As misguided as that twist was, the rest of the film does hold up. It is also home to one of the greatest jump scares in cinema history. If there is one thing to be said for Signs, it’s that it shows the “less is more” approach can work wonders for a film. There are hardly any jump scares in the film, which is why the alien’s reveal is so effective.
The film also boasts strong performances from the entire cast. Mel Gibson is good, but the film belongs to Phoenix. Early career performances from Culkin and Breslin are also impressive. One thing that Shymalan has always excelled at is injecting a brooding atmosphere into his films. Even trash like The Happening does a pretty decent job at creating an atmosphere for its killer plant world.
Made on a budget of $72 million ($3 million less than that of Unbreakable), Signs was a huge success. It grossed $227.9 million domestically and $180.2 million internationally for a worldwide total of $408.2 million. While the opinion on the film has cooled in the 14 years since its release, it is still notable for being Shyamalan’s second highest grossing film after The Sixth Sense.
I remember seeing Signs with my uncle when on one of my annual summer trips to visit my grandparents (I was 13). I thought it was fine at the time but it’s one of those movies where I like it a little bit more each time I watch it. What are your thoughts on Signs? Do you think it’s Shyamalan’s last good film (I was a huge fan of The Visit, which proved to be equally as divisive)? Or are you not a fan? Share your thoughts and memories on the film in the comments below!