Mel Gibson stars in the latest provocative thriller by M. Night Shyamalan, the writer-director who made the supernatural hit The Sixth Sense.This time it is not ghosts, but outer space aliens that lurk in the story's shadows. Alan Silverman has a look at Signs.
Pennsylvania farmer Graham Hess is a former minister who abandoned the clergy and his faith after the death of his wife; but what his children discover one morning in their cornfield forces him to confront and re-examine everything he has ever believed.
Perfectly formed circles, curves and lines trace an intricate pattern in the field; and soon identical "crop circle" formations appear around the world. Are they Signs from aliens or is it a divine message?
"If you don't have faith, it's hard to exist," says Gibson. "At the heart of it, it's about a guy who loses his faith and gets it back again. Of course, it's a good deal more than that."
Mel Gibson stars as the disillusioned clergyman who goes from skeptic to believer in his search to understand the mysterious Signs.
"There's a lot of peripheral stuff around the subject matter of the film....The scientific phenomena. There are lots of books on the subject of crop circles. These are questions that many people ask themselves: is there something else out there? It's a good idea to exploit," he says. "Not only can you thrill with it and present our ID: What if they're hostile? That's our ID, you know. You can also delve into a nature outside of our own on a spiritual level. So it's something we've all thought about in some form or other and it always lends itself to great storytelling."
"He said there are two reasons why extra-terrestrials would visit us:
to make contact in the spirit of exploration and furthering the knowledge of the universe....or the other reason: they're hostile."
"I do actually believe in something greater than us here and that there are signs of things or you get given messages from time to time," says Gibson. "It's happened to me a bunch of times. There is the unexplainable phenomena that happen in everyday life. In my life, maybe a dozen times really strange things have happened that make your hair stand up on end. There's something else out there."
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan explains the specific crop formations he chose for Signs have special significance for Gibson's character.
"Our crop circle is based on the famous one from New Hampshire that is on the Led Zeppelin compilation album," explains Shymalan. "The end of it looks like a pitchfork....like the devil's. In a way, the whole movie is kind of metaphorical for us in that this could be seen as a conversation between this man and God. This whole thing is like him dealing with his demons; and the demons literally come down into the house and stand with him and hold his child and say ' where are you? where is your faith? who are you?' This is all just a metaphor for how he's feeling. We always talked about it in terms that these things coming down were demons."
But rather than employ digital imagery to create graphically realistic aliens . . . or demons . . . Shyamalan says he believes in the power of the audience's own imagination.
"The movie is all about using the audience's imagination to keep them active in the movie as much as possible so they are constantly a participant in the movie. They hear the sound of creaks on the porch and they picture something that scares them," says Shymalan.
Mel Gibson says he was attracted by the combination of supernatural mystery and earthly concerns.
"Firstly, I think it's entertaining. Secondly it's educational and thirdly I think it's got another worldliness......something higher about it," says Gibson. "I don't know if you'd call it spirituality or whatever but it kind of reaches outside of the norm and goes into a higher realm somewhere, which I think is good and something we all have thought about from time to time."
Young Abigail Breslin and Rory Culkin play the children. Signs also features Joaquin Phoenix as the skeptic's even more skeptical brother; and as with M. Night Shyamalan's previous films, the musical score is by James Newton Howard.