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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

A 2002 film, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Weird things start happening all over the globe. Strange sightings of unearthly creatures, crop circles, and other unexplained phenomena start occurring.

The story focuses on the Hess family, consisting of a faithless former preacher, Graham (Gibson), his asthmatic son, Morgan (Rory Culkin), his ostensibly autistic daughter, Bo (Abigail Breslin) and his ne'er do well younger brother, Merrill (Phoenix), who live in a podunk farmland community. Like the rest of the world, they start thinking that it's an Alien Invasion being done as a stealth infiltration. The entire story is told through this farming family in Pennsylvania as they watch the paranoia grip the world through their television set. Of course, since an off-screen repulsion isn't too dramatic, there's still a fight scene. Oh, and there's a lot of incredibly blunt religious symbolism, with the story serving more as a story about a man finding his faith in God again as the "signs" start to coalesce.


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.
    • This is actually lampshaded: when Graham announces they're going to board the windows shut, he's asked how he thinks this will work.
      "Because they seem to have trouble with pantry doors."
  • Aliens Are Bastards: It is an Alien Invasion movie, after all.
  • An Aesop: God makes everything happen for a reason - even when things seem like huge coincidences.
  • Artistic License – Biology: The aliens are capable of mastering space travel and being undetectable until planetary approach... yet they lack the intelligence to bring equipment for their "takeover", they seem to have difficulty getting past wooden doors, AND went on a planet that is 71% coated in their number one weakness, ignoring what is present in the atmosphere. This is all important as basic problem-solving is a sign of intelligence, which the aliens SHOULD possess to traverse space but evidently lack in terms of common sense and strategy 101.
    • This isn't really an issue with biology, but strategy. It also ignores that the movie states outright at the end that this wasn't an invasion, it was a mass abduction.
    • For that matter... 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 – Chemistry: The film reveals that the aliens can only be destroyed by water, as it seems to dissolve them. The problem is that water is NOT naturally acidic or reactive. Water is actually extremely nonreactive unless either rapidly heated, or in contact with an alkali metal: neither of these conditions are met and even if they were, it would result in a more explosive reaction... NOT AN ACIDIC ONE!
    • Pure water is pH-neutral, but drinking water from a tap is anything but pure, and is generally slightly towards the acid end of the pH spectrum, as is human skin (and, really, most lifeforms on Earth). The aliens may well be from a planet where everything is shifted toward the alkaline rather than mildly acidic, and so the weak acid of tap water would react exothermically with their skin to form a salt. Though, really, that reaction would still be pretty mild and more likely to cause minor irritation than anything as severe as shown.
  • Based on a True Story or Based on a Great Big Lie: While the story doesn't cite itself as such, there are a large number of similarities between Signs and the "Hopkinsville Goblins" event in 1955. It's quite possible Shyamalan drew on it for inspiration... whether it's a true story or a hoax is largely immaterial to the movie.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • The fact they can't even open a damn door. Who knows, maybe they have become terribly reliant on technological, sliding doors, but all it takes is a basic understanding of levers! Especially given that a wide range of not particularly intelligent Earth animals can work out how to open doors (cats, dogs, etc.)
      • They also have legs strong enough to leap atop houses, yet they don't even try kicking the door.
  • Infant Immortality: 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, also they can't open an unlocked door.
  • 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.
    • They did a good job of making this seem more like a horror movie. The trailers and teasers almost all had no references to aliens (except for two of them) - the TV spots, moreso than the trailers, makes this seem more like a horror movie. Although this is crop circles, but going by the trailer, one can deduce that monsters with magical powers did them.
  • 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.
  • 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, and they somehow can't even bypass a basic door.
  • 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!"
  • 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.

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