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Film / Signs

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It's happening., not that happening.

"So what you have to ask yourself is, what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way — is it possible that there are no coincidences?"
Graham Hess

Signs is a 2002 Sci-Fi Horror film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin.

The film focuses on the Hess family: faithless former preacher Graham (Gibson), his asthmatic son Morgan (Culkin), his ostensibly autistic daughter Bo (Breslin), and his ne'er-do-well younger brother Merrill (Phoenix), a former baseball player. A few short months after the accidental death of his wife, a newly widowed Graham struggles to raise his children with Merrill's help, while also grappling with his newly shaken faith in God. Having abandoned the priesthood following his wife's death, Graham now lives as a simple farmer in rural Pennsylvania.

One day, however, the Hess family's quiet life is shattered by news of a bizarre series of events: crop circles are appearing around the world, radios are picking up strange signals from space, and multiple witnesses report sightings of unearthly creatures. In the ensuing weeks, the people of the world gradually realize that Earth has been targeted by invaders from another world, and advance agents are stealthily infiltrating human civilization as a precursor to all-out invasion.

In a unique spin on this premise, however, the events that follow are told entirely from the perspective of the Hesses as they attempt to survive the invasion while hiding out on their remote farm. Eschewing the action set-pieces typical to most Alien Invasion films, Signs focuses on the sheer terror of an ordinary family caught in the path of an attack by bizarre creatures that they don't understand. This suspense is aided by Shyamalan's direction embracing a "less is more" approach in its depiction of the aliens, keeping details about their appearance and background minimal and never showing them using any sort of advanced technology apart from their spaceships (which are permanently rendered invisible with cloaking devices), making them come across more like monsters than traditional alien invaders. At heart, the film is essentially a drama about a widowed father's spiritual crisis as he struggles to interpret a series of enigmatic signs from above, inspiring him to question whether life has an inherent meaning and purpose.

Signs is notable for being the last of Shyamalan's films following The Sixth Sense to have a generally positive reception before his reputation as a filmmaker began to decline following the release of The Village (2004). The film can also be interpreted as something of a spiritual successor to The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, being a similarly dark and introspective family drama that presents an unconventional take on a popular genre of speculative fiction, largely eschewing flashy action in favor of thematic exploration and character studies. After putting a new spin on ghost stories and superheroes, Signs completes the trifecta by tackling alien invasions.

And, of course, it does have a plot twist at the end.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Ineffective Barricade: At one point, the family barricades all the doors and windows downstairs. Since they don't have enough wood to barricade all the upstairs windows, they instead barricade the doors of every upstairs room which has a window. It's only after the aliens break into the attic that the family realizes they forgot to barricade the attic door.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: It is an Alien Invasion movie, after all. Fortunately for humanity, though, they also seem to be incredibly stupid.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: The Brazilian birthday party shows footage from the city of Passo Fundo, Brazil. A mostly regional hub and virtually unknown outside Brazil
  • An Aesop: God makes everything happen for a reason - even when things seem like huge coincidences.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • What are they bleeding when the water dissolves them? While not all liquids are H2O-based, a very large number that can viably exist in a liquid state are.
    • Why are their bodies harmed by the liquid state of H2O but not what is in the atmosphere? One could justify it in low humidity environments but what about going through clouds, high humidity environments or precipitation?
  • Artistic License – Geography: Despite Shyamalan being from Philadelphia, his version of Bucks County is hilariously wrong, to the point that Bucks residents didn't even realize it was set in their county initially, let alone the county seat.
    • The uniforms the police wear don't look anything like what any officers in Bucks County wear or have ever worn - Sheriffs, deputies, state patrolmen, local police, or anything.
      • To wit: Officers in Bucks all wear blue uniforms, not brown. The jackets they wear are blue windbreakers, not brown with fur trim. They also don't wear wide-brimmed hats; they wear standard police hats, if any hats at all (most don't). Ultimately, the police uniforms seen in the movie look like California outfits, rather than Pennsylvania uniforms.
    • There are no large farms at all within the vicinity of Doylestown, as the entire area is much too hilly for proper farming, and by now much too developed.
    • There are also no large natural bodies of water within miles of Doylestown - where that lake came from is anyone's guess.
    • While there are a ludicrous number of trees in Bucks County and Doylestown especially, which give a little privacy, it's also so densely populated that it's literally impossible for a farm to be secluded - there would have been at least two dozen houses within short walking distance and probably line of sight of the farmhouse.
    • The setting as a whole looks nothing like Bucks County except maybe the northern-most areas; it actually bears more of a striking resemblance to the Poconos about a half-hour farther north.
  • Artistic License – Law: No mention is ever made of Ray Reddy facing any legal repercussions for killing Graham's wife. While her death may have been an accident, Ray should (at the very least) have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for hitting her with his truck. In Pennsylvania, involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
  • Artistic License – Traditional Christianity: In one scene, a girl named Tracey insists on confessing her sins to Graham in order to clear her conscience, since she feels remorseful about a recent argument with a friend. Graham was an Episcopal priest, while Confession is primarily a Catholic tradition; the Episcopal Church has many similarities to the Catholic Church (it's an American offshoot of Anglicanism, which is an English offshoot of Catholicism), but it doesn't recognize Confession as a sacrament. To be fair: Tracey may not have known that, and she doesn't actually use the term "Confession".
  • Berserk Board Barricade: Amidst the alien invasion, Graham and Merrill board up every way to enter their house and it manages to keep the invaders out for a while.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Morgan has this for Bo. He was even forced to kill Houdini to protect his sister.
  • Blessed with Suck: Aliens that... melt.
  • Casting Gag: Morgan and Bo are both played by the younger siblings of famous child actors: Morgan is played by Rory Culkin (the younger brother of Macaulay Culkin), and Bo is played by Abigail Breslin (the younger sister of Spencer Breslin). Their uncle Merrill is played by Joaquin Phoenix, who was (similarly) initially best known as the younger brother of the late River Phoenix, who first broke out as a teenager.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: the aliens have skin that changes patterns to mimic theur surroundings It is detailed enough that it can mimic faces of people standing in front of them on their back.
  • Chekhov's Armory: One of the main themes of this film is that everything, even if it seems bad at the time, is a Chekhov's Gun, planned out by God.
  • Chekhov's Gun/Chekhov's Skill: The Movie
    • Merrill's baseball bat and his skills with said bat - or lack thereof.
    • The fact that Merrill lives with them at all, rather than living independently (he works at a gas station)
    • The glasses of water that Bo keeps around the house.
    • Morgan's asthma.
    • Colleen's dying words: "Swing away."
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The alien Ray traps in his pantry.
  • Chiaroscuro: The scenes which take place in the basement, lit only by flashlights. Until, of course, they find a pack of lightbulbs.
  • Cozy Voice for Catastrophes: As the aliens are on the roof and encircling the Hess home, Graham tells the kids how he and his wife felt when they were born.
  • Creator Cameo: M. Night Shyamalan plays Ray Reddy, the man who accidentally killed Graham's wife Colleen.
  • Crisis of Faith: Graham is a priest who lost his wife, which killed his faith in God. It's restored by the end of the invasion.
  • Darker and Edgier: for an alien movie, the aliens definitely have a demonic intention for their attacks, which makes this movie even more creepier. The tone of this is darker than most sci-fi movies. Add to that the fact that the aliens seem to enjoy terrorizing people and animals (including people's pets). Contrast this to other sci-fi movies where at least aliens have a code of honor about attacking civilians.
  • Death World: From the aliens point of view; 70% of the planet surface is covered by a fatal, skin-dissolving acidic liquid that also permeates the atmosphere, frequently falling from its skies like rain. All the local flora and fauna are suffused with the acid, with the crowning example being a sentient apex predator that bleeds, spits and excretes the substance through the skin through physical activity. So, uh... WHY did they pick Earth to attack? And why did they not carry protection from this deadly substance?
  • Demonic Invaders: The viewer who knows his mythology and/or is prone to Fan Wank might note that crop circles, dead livestock, night-time abductions and a fear of water were attributed to fairies, demons and incubi for a long time before aliens found their way into pop culture.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The aliens themselves. They decide to attack a planet whose surface is more than 50 percent water. Guess what their weakness is? Possibly justified, as it's not clear whether the aliens are actually invading or just doing their equivalent of a supply run.
  • Dull Surprise: Graham and Merrill seem to have... a distinct lack of emotion when Morgan is taken hostage by one of the aliens.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: Well, there was a Shout-Out to The War of the Worlds. Justified in-universe by the theory that this was merely a raid, and thus not an actual invasion at all. In any case, the aliens were pitifully easy to deal with being slower, weaker, and clumsier than an average human adult and had no weaponry to compensate. Even the movie itself notes that the aliens’ forces were thwarted quickly and without listing any major damage to humanity.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The Hess family dogs go crazy when the aliens are around, but they also become violent and dangerous towards the family. It's also mentioned early on that there have been reports of other animals becoming violent and acting how they'd normally act if a predator was around.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: Very foolish considering water is toxic to them.
  • Fight Unscene: Ray managed to trap one of the aliens in his own pantry, and tells Graham not to open it immediately before he leaves.
  • Foreshadowing: Happens several times.
    • Early on in the film, Bo is watching Dexter's Laboratory, and in the episode she's watching, Dexter can be seen getting dunked into a fish tank. Water does indeed come in handy later on in the film.
  • Furniture Blockade: Shows up but only in a deleted scene. The Graham family barricades their house by boarding up the windows and doors, and only realize they forgot the attic as the aliens are breaking in. In the finished movie, the family immediate lock themselves in the basement at this point; in the deleted scene, Merrill blocks the attic door with a large bookcase to buy everyone else more time to get downstairs.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Graham and Merrill are trying to scare an intruder by shouting angrily and swearing. Graham (being a fomer priest) objects that it doesn't sound convincing when he swears, but manages to come up with: "Ahhh! I'm insane with anger! I'm losing my mind! It's time for an ass-whooping!" Afterwards, he confesses, "I cursed." Merrill responds, "I heard." (A bit of Irony as She Is Cast, considering Graham is played by the infamously foul-mouthed Mel Gibson.)
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Colleen was cut in half at the waist in the accident that killed her; Officer Paski describes the truck pinning her to a tree as the only thing that's holding her together. Fortunately, we don't see this in detail.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Clicking noises and baby monitors are a winning combination.
    • The pig-like chirping squeal noise Graham hears briefly when he's searching through his cornfield and suddenly the alien's leg moves.
  • Idiot Ball: The aliens, big time. They walk around without any sort of protection on a planet 70% covered by a substance that kills them but not the people they're antagonizing, and that's not counting water vapor in the atmosphere (especially on a humid day.) Why?
    • There's also the fact that their method of catching humans is apparently the incredibly advanced method of "using their hands." They travel light years across the galaxy, indicating technology far beyond our own, yet all they do is run around trying to kill people like movie boogeymen.
    • They also came to Earth with only their Spacecrafts that have built-in Cloaking Tech, but not have the wherewithal to keep their starships up in orbit or at a higher altitude than where Birds tend to fly so they don't get found out by their prey when a Bird-Strike happens on their ships which reveals its' exact location.
    • And while we're on the subject of technology, and to quote Doug Walker:
    These technologically-advanced Aliens; these creatures that we are supposed to be afraid of... CANNOT get through Pantry Doors!
    • They also have legs strong enough to leap atop houses, yet they don't even try kicking the door.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Morgan almost succumbs to a severe asthma attack, but survives.
    • In fact, Morgan survives because he has a severe asthma attack, which causes him to entirely stop breathing... just before the alien holding on to him sprays poisonous gas in his face.
  • Insufficiently Advanced Alien: See Idiot Ball.
  • Irony: The book on extraterrestrial life the kids buy in town claimed that prospective alien invaders would likely be physically small and weak (as their superior intelligence would make up for it); would use advanced technology to subjugate humanity; and would probably be vegetarians. The actual aliens were easily over 7 feet tall, muscular, and agile (and obviously not smart enough to realize that attacking a planet and beings made mostly of a substance that could kill them would be a bad idea); used biological poisons in hand-to-hand combat; and were implied to be carnivores or at least omnivores, based on their muscular builds and speculation by a man on the radio following the attack that "they came here for us, to harvest us."
  • Jump Scare: A few. Examples include the Brazilian news report, Graham seeing an alien on his roof, and the scene where Graham spots an alien's leg sticking out of his crops.
  • Kick the Dog: Family dog Isabel is still chained up outside when the alien attack begins. Guess how the aliens demonstrate how evil they are.
  • Kill It with Water: Water turns out to be deadly to the aliens.
  • Ludicrous Precision: In a Deleted Scene the aliens attempt to break into the house through the attic door. Merrill stands under it, holding it closed, and on asked by Graham how long he can manage it, replies: "twenty-two seconds." Thankfully that's long enough for Graham to push a cupboard underneath the door.
  • Manly Tears: Mel Gibson is very good at crying.
  • Mirror Scare: Towards the end, the alien in the living room is revealed when its reflection is seen in the TV.
  • Missing Mom: Graham's wife Colleen died six months before the start of the film.
  • Nay-Theist: Graham Hess, throughout the entire movie, until the end when the alien holding Morgan gets defeated, and Morgan survives the poison attack; although you can make a point that he's slowing softening his anger towards God in the basement scene; in fact he even acknowledges that he's not ready to meet his maker, when the aliens are about to open the basement door, which the Hesses luckily thwart when Merrill finds his dirt picker. He does know God exists. He just hates him, although it's not explicitly shown until the basement scene.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The films trailers made the film look more like a full out alien invasion/horror movie. While there are certainly elements of that, the actual film is more a story about regaining faith with the aliens being used as a plot device.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: A rather famous aversion. Water—a very common substance on Earth, which is vital to human survival—is a deadly corrosive chemical to the invading aliens.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A glorious example of the third type. Graham is looking at a darkened field with a flashlight. There's nothing there. Then the alien's leg moves.
    • The classic version is also used in abundance throughout the film. And, Fridge Logic aside, they do a fantastic job.
  • Ominous Floating Spaceship: A particulary creepy version of this trope, since said spaceship is completely invisible.
  • Plot Parallel
  • Rule of Scary: Fridge Logic aside, when you're watching it, it's one of the most effectively scary horror films of the decade.
  • Scully Syndrome: Graham and Merrill Hess.
  • Spiteful Gluttony: During the dinner scene, everyone is too upset to eat the dinner Graham made for them all, and Graham covers up his own worries by piling food on his plate and shoveling it down. Finally he can't hide his own fear and breaks down crying with a plateful of mashed potatoes.
  • Stupid Evil: The Epic Failing aliens. Despite their technological superiority - they choose to just Leeroy Jenkins a planet that's Kryptonite Is Everywhere to them. Possibly downplayed, since it's possible the aliens are on a supply run rather than actually invading.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Invoked by Graham when he and Merrill run around the house to scare what they think are troublesome neighbor kids: "I'm insane with anger! I'm losing my mind!"
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: The family sits down to a dinner consisting of their favorite dishes before heading down to the cellar, the idea being it could be their last. An argument breaks out and then the aliens arrive, and all that spaghetti and French toast goes uneaten.
  • Tinfoil Hat: Becoming paranoid, the family (apart from Graham) briefly wears aluminum foil hats to try and protect themselves.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The aliens walk around Earth naked, despite being as much vulnerable to water as we are to sulfuric acid. Really, just coming to a planet with a surface area that's roughly three-fourths water probably counts - not counting rain and water vapor. A humid day could kill them.
  • To Serve Man: Not explicitly said or shown in the movie, but implied to possibly be the reason the aliens are here. The original script suggested this more strongly.
  • Twist Ending: Everything happens for a reason.
  • Water Source Tampering: Bo keeps starting glasses of water only to find something wrong with them (such as "It has [her brother's] amoebas in it!") and stop drinking them, leaving them scattered all over the house, half-full. It turns out leaving the glasses all over was Bo being pre-cognitive but unwilling or unable to explain it. Water is harmful to the hostile aliens, one of which had gotten into the house, and when they need to be able to hurt it, it finds itself standing in a room surrounded by partially full water glasses.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's never revealed how any of the various supporting characters from earlier in the film fare once the Alien Invasion finally starts. Or if the aliens met with any success anywhere; going by the radio at least a few places drove them off almost immediately.
  • Wrecked Weapon: When Merrill lands his finishing blow on the alien to knock it into the water glasses, he ends up hitting it so hard that it breaks the bat in half.


Pantry Doors

"They seem to have trouble with Pantry Doors."

How well does it match the trope?

4.5 (28 votes)

Example of:

Main / InsurmountableWaistHeightFence

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