Graham (Mel Gibson), an ex-reverend, and his family, still reeling after his wife’s death, are faced with the unexplained as crop circles and shadowy figures start frequenting their farm. As fears rise, will Graham's faith begin to regrow or die for good.
In my opinion, "Signs" is M. Night Shyamalan's best film. It has the most developed theme, reinforced by its climactic sequence. It has the best acting with Mel Gibson (Braveheart) and Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here) digging deep for complex characters that can portray both the gravity of their situation and the lightheartedness of family. It's a movie that promises suspense and delivers on it with the slow build of an eerie atmosphere more than just jump scares.
Of course, from my personal perspective, the fact that the movie is about faith is huge plus.
Plot v. Theme
One of the things that sets great movies apart is their approach to theme. This is typically one of the first big developmental jumps we as serious cinephiles make as we consume more and more films. We start to realize that talking about what a movie is about is not as useful as talking about either its plot or theme.
If I ask a person what the movie Spiderman is about, they might tell me that it's about a guy who gets bit by a spider, gains super powers, and has to defeat his best friend's dad who has gone crazy and become a domestic terrorist. On the other hand, they may tell me it's about personal responsibility and the consequences of our choices.
Both of them would be right. The first was describing the plot, and the second, the theme. Most films have a theme they are trying to convey but the more of a blockbuster tentpole the movie is, the more likely that the theme will play second fiddle to the plot.
What is the theme of "Avengers: Infinity War?" Not as important as showing the plot. There may be a few scenes that talk about themes like sacrifice, but ultimately, the film is about Thanos attacking and being stronger than the Avengers.
Great films and filmmakers find a way to do more than that. They weave the theme into the plot scenes so that when Maximus is fighting Commodus, it isn't just a man fighting another man. It is a system of thought, an idea, fighting another.
One of my screenwriting teachers taught me something that has stuck with me more than any other.
Every scene in a movie should be about the theme. Every conversation should be about the theme. Every set, montage sequence and character action should be a part of a continuing discussion about the theme.
This is where "Signs" excels above M. Night's other films. The exploration of the theme of faith and the dark night of the soul is expertly unfolded through out the film in a way that is rare for a mainstream studio summer release. Usually, when a theme like this is explored, it is weighty and full of long conversations between characters about the nature of God. Sure, there are a couple of those, but on the whole, there is nothing in this film like in "Silence" where every conversation seems to be directly about that theme.
Instead, "Signs" has these themes mainly play out through metaphor and action. A great example is a scene in the basement when Graham's son is having an asthma attack. His inhaler is upstairs and the intruders are up there so Graham takes his son, sits behind him, supporting him, and holds him close. He takes deep breathes and talks with his exhales, "Breathe with me. Feel my Breath? It's going to be ok. I'm right here, breathe with me, It's going to be ok, It'll pass."
No one says anything about God in this scene, but what a great picture of God's children going through a trial, not seeing the end, and just gasping for air. The Father is there, supporting, but mostly just breathing, setting the rhythm for the child. It is a picture of exactly the struggle Graham is going through, doubting God and his goodness because his wife was tragically killed.
When I talk about Thematic Elements in my reviews and film discussions, this is what I am talking about. I am talking about a film being about more than just the plot. I am talking about the theme being discussed with more than just the dialogue.
I am talking about filmmaking.
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